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Title: Hydrogen bonding steers the product selectivity of electrocatalytic CO reduction

The product selectivity of many heterogeneous electrocatalytic processes is profoundly affected by the liquid side of the electrocatalytic interface. The electrocatalytic reduction of CO to hydrocarbons on Cu electrodes is a prototypical example of such a process. However, probing the interactions of surface-bound intermediates with their liquid reaction environment poses a formidable experimental challenge. As a result, the molecular origins of the dependence of the product selectivity on the characteristics of the electrolyte are still poorly understood. Herein, we examined the chemical and electrostatic interactions of surface-adsorbed CO with its liquid reaction environment. Using a series of quaternary alkyl ammonium cations (methyl4N+,ethyl4N+,propyl4N+, andbutyl4N+), we systematically tuned the properties of this environment. With differential electrochemical mass spectrometry (DEMS), we show that ethylene is produced in the presence ofmethyl4N+andethyl4N+cations, whereas this product is not synthesized inpropyl4N+- andbutyl4N+-containing electrolytes. Surface-enhanced infrared absorption spectroscopy more » (SEIRAS) reveals that the cations do not block CO adsorption sites and that the cation-dependent interfacial electric field is too small to account for the observed changes in selectivity. However, SEIRAS shows that an intermolecular interaction between surface-adsorbed CO and interfacial water is disrupted in the presence of the two larger cations. This observation suggests that this interaction promotes the hydrogenation of surface-bound CO to ethylene. Our study provides a critical molecular-level insight into how interactions of surface species with the liquid reaction environment control the selectivity of this complex electrocatalytic process.

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Publication Date:
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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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Article No. 201900761
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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