Impacts of electrode potentials and solvents on the electroreduction of CO2: a comparison of theoretical approaches†
Since CO2 is a readily available feedstock throughout the world, the utilization of CO2 as a C1 building block for the synthesis of valuable chemicals is a highly attractive concept. However, due to its very nature of energy depleted “carbon sink”, CO2 has a very low reactivity. Electrocatalysis offers the most attractive means to activate CO2 through reduction: the electron is the “cleanest” reducing agent whose energy can be tuned to the thermodynamic optimum. Under protic conditions, the reduction of CO2 over many metal electrodes results in formic acid. Thus, to open the road to its utilization as a C1 building block, the presence of water should be avoided to allow a more diverse chemistry, in particular for C–C bond formation with alkenes. Under those conditions, the intrinsic reactivity of CO2 can generate carbonates and oxalates by C–O and C–C bond formation, respectively. On Ni(111), almost exclusively carbonates and carbon monoxide are evidenced experimentally. Despite recent progress in modelling electrocatalytic reactions, determining the actual mechanism and selectivities between competing reaction pathways is still not straight forward. As a simple but important example of the intrinsic reactivity of CO2 under aprotic conditions, we highlight the shortcomings of the popular linear free energy relationship for electrode potentials (LFER-EP). Going beyond this zeroth order approximation by charging the surface and thus explicitly including the electrochemical potential into the electronic structure computations allows us to access more detailed insights, shedding light on coverage effects and on the influence of counterions.