Spatial reactant distribution in CO2 electrolysis: balancing CO2 utilization and faradaic efficiency†
The production of value added C1 and C2 compounds within CO2 electrolyzers has reached sufficient catalytic performance that system and process performance – such as CO2 utilization – have come more into consideration. Efforts to assess the limitations of CO2 conversion and crossover within electrochemical systems have been performed, providing valuable information to position CO2 electrolyzers within a larger process. Currently missing, however, is a clear elucidation of the inevitable trade-offs that exist between CO2 utilization and electrolyzer performance, specifically how the faradaic efficiency of a system varies with CO2 availability. Such information is needed to properly assess the viability of the technology. In this work, we provide a combined experimental and 3D modelling assessment of the trade-offs between CO2 utilization and selectivity at 200 mA cm−2 within a membrane-electrode assembly CO2 electrolyzer. Using varying inlet flow rates we demonstrate that the variation in spatial concentration of CO2 leads to spatial variations in faradaic efficiency that cannot be captured using common ‘black box’ measurement procedures. Specifically, losses of faradaic efficiency are observed to occur even at incomplete CO2 consumption (80%). Modelling of the gas channel and diffusion layers indicated that at least a portion of the H2 generated is considered as avoidable by proper flow field design and modification. The combined work allows for a spatially resolved interpretation of product selectivity occurring inside the reactor, providing the foundation for design rules in balancing CO2 utilization and device performance in both lab and scaled applications.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Recent Open Access Articles