New research published in Nature Catalysis by researchers at the University’s Department of Chemistry, in collaboration with Beijing Computational Science Research Center and STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, demonstrates a laser-based spectroscopy technique that can be used to study the electrochemical reduction of CO2 in-situ and provide much-needed insights into these complex chemical pathways. The researchers used a technique called Vibrational Sum-Frequency Generation (VSFG) spectroscopy coupled with electrochemical experiments to explore the chemistry of a particular catalyst called Mn(bpy)(CO)3Br, which is one of the most promising and intensely studied CO2 reduction electrocatalysts.
Using VSFG the researchers were able to observe key intermediates that are only present on the electrode surface for a very short time – something that has not been achieved in previous experimental studies. Earlier it was a huge challenge to discriminate between the single layer of short-lived intermediate molecules at the electrode surface and the surrounding ‘noise’ from inactive molecules in the solution.
VSFG made it possible to follow the behavior of even very short-lived species in the catalytic cycle. And with this, it has opened a new opportunity to better understand how electrocatalysts operate, which is an important next step towards commercializing the process of electrochemical CO2 conversation into clean fuel technologies.