Mitigating adverse consequences of air pollution has been a major focus of scientists. Rising percentage of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere has accelerated research activities involved in conversion of CO2 to renewable energy sources. Research on CO2 conversion is not only focused upon generating electrofuels but also other value added chemicals including ethanol, propane and ethylene in a cost effective manner. However, scientists found it difficult to understand exact structure of activated carbon dioxide, which is essential to gauge end product characteristics and energy cost.
After a century’s research, researchers at Columbia Engineering managed to prove that electroduction of CO2 starts with one intermediate and have substantiated methods that can identify exact structure of carboxylate CO2 – the first CO2 electroduction intermediate. This discovery was possible by using SERS (Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering), the spectroscopic results of which were verified using quantum chemical modelling.
Findings from the spectroscopic results can open new avenues apropos to reduction in use of fossil fuels that can lessen pollution and climate change. Columbia Engineering researchers stated that their insights related to CO2 electroduction and activation at solid-water interface can facilitate enhanced remodeling of the prebiotic landscape, from carbon dioxide to composite organic molecules.
Researchers at Columbia Engineering adopted SERS instead of SEIRAS (Surface Enhanced Infrared Spectroscopy) owing to various advantages of the former including highly accurate structure identification of the intermediate. Using a unique combination of conventional electrochemical techniques and quantum chemical modelling, they were able to comprehend the CO2 activation process at the electrolyte-electrode interface.
This unique discovery has made it possible to transition from trial and error model to a more rational catalytic design. With Columbia Engineering’s research on CO2 electroduction, other research institutes such as University of Calgary and CalTech, can obtain definitive validation of the model along with accurate prediction of reactions on numerous catalysts. Based on Columbia Engineering’s research, further experiments can provide detailed mechanisms and their respective changes based on alloys, electrolytes, surface structures and additives. This precise experimentation can enable optimization of electrocatalysts used for water spitting, CO2 reduction to organic feed stocks and fuels, and N2 reduction to NH3 obtaining less expensive fertilizers. This can become a novel solution resolving challenges associated with food and energy supply to the expanding population.
With this remarkable discovery, using catalysts to convert electrons into chemical energy can become the future providing renewable energy source. Research is now going on to unveil subsequent steps in catalytic reaction, in a bid to understand successive CO2 transformations and develop superior and compatible catalysts.