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Theoretical Studies on CO2 Reduction Electrocatalysts

Time: Thu 2020-10-29 10.00

Location:, Stockholm (English)

Subject area: Theoretical Chemistry and Biology

Doctoral student: Xiaoyu Chen , Teoretisk kemi och biologi

Opponent: Professor Sandra Luber, University of Zurich

Supervisor: Mårten S. G. Ahlquist, Teoretisk kemi och biologi


The atmospheric CO2 concentration has increased by more than 20% since 1980s and has now reached the highest level than at any point in the past 800 000 years. Electrochemical CO2 reductions are receiving particular in- terest as the apparatus are relatively easy to maintain and cheap to operate. However, the direct reduction of CO2 into CO2 radical requires a very high over-potential, meaning a substantial waste in energy. In order to lower the over-potential required, a large number of catalysts has been synthesised and studied. Among these catalysts, three are studied in this work due to their interesting reactivities. We believe the further understanding gained in our studies will benefit the development of new and better catalysts.

Ru(6-Mebpy)(tBu3-tpy) reduces CO2 at its first reduction potential and can therefore lower the over-potential required significantly. This observation is unique for Ru(tpy)(bpy) type of catalysts. Density functional theory (DFT) cal- culations revealed that the steric hindrance provided by the 6-methyl group weakens Ru-solvent interactions and hence allows solvent detachment to take place after only one reduction, which is otherwise not possible. Furthermore, we proposed a new mechanism for CO2 to CO reduction at the first reduc- tion potential and identified a cyclic intermediate by Infra-red spectroscopy in collaboration with experimentalists. Such intermediate was not reported pre- viously for Ru-based electrocatalysts.

Co(TPP)/CNTs as a heterogenous catalyst exhibits superior reactivity as compared to in solution. DFT calculations with implicit solvent model ac- counts its enhanced reactivity to the increased proton concentration in water. The inverse-loading effect was studied by potential mean force (PME) sam- pling. Our results suggest that aggregation is triggered by the strong inter- molecular p - p interactions among the catalysts. Flatter nanotubes have better contact with Co(TPP) and hence reduces aggregation tendency. The same cat- alyst was also used as an example to study catalysis at interfaces in an electric field. Our full-explicit EVB -MD (Empirical Valence Bond-Molecular Dynam- ics) model illustrates that the electric double layer concentrates cations, which significantly stabilises polarised CO2 at a higher concentration and hence eases CO2 binding. Furthermore, we have also shown that either the electric field or the cations along provides only a minor, almost negligible stabilisation.

In 2019, CoPc/CNTs was reported to be the first early-period transition metal complex that can catalyse CO2-to-CH3OH conversion at a decent yield. Literature search on previous work suggests that the presence of well-dispersed, monomeric CoPc is crucial to further reduce CO into CH3OH. We calculated the reaction profiles for both monomeric CoPc and dimeric CoPc, which is the simplest form of aggregates. Our DFT results demonstrate that after the formation of catalyst-CO- complex, monomers tend to go though further reac- tions to afford CH3OH while dimers tend to dissociate CO as reductions are slightly harder, which in turn, is raised from a less degree of solvation stabili- sation upon reductions.