Operando vibrational spectroscopy for electrochemical biomass valorization
Electrocatalysis is a promising route to generate fuels and value-added chemicals from abundant feedstocks powered by renewable electricity. The field of electrocatalysis research has made great progress in supplementing electrocatalyst development with operando vibrational spectroscopic techniques, those carried out simultaneously as the reaction is occurring. Such experiments unveil reaction mechanisms, structure–activity relationships and consequently, accelerate the development of next generation electrocatalytic systems. While operando techniques have now been extensively applied to water electrolysis and CO2 reduction, their application to the emerging area of biomass valorization is rather nascent. The electrocatalytic conversion of biomass can provide an alternate, environmentally friendly route to the chemicals which power our society, but this field still requires much growth before the envisioned technologies are economically competetive with thermochemical routes. Within this context, a growing body of work has begun to translate the methodology and concepts from water/CO2 electrolysis to biomass valorization to elucidate links between catalyst structure, adsorbed surface intermediates, and the resultant catalytic performance. The reactions of interest here include the upgrading of biomass platforms such a 5-hydroxymethylfurfural or glycerol to value-added chemicals. In this feature article we highlight these efforts and provide a critical view on the steps necessary to take to further progress the field. We further show how the knowledge derived from these studies can be translated to a plethora of other organic transformations to forge new avenues in renewable energy electrocatalysis.