University of Toronto researchers create new catalyst design for electrolyzers

January 24, 2023 |

In Canada, a new catalyst design created by researchers at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering could significantly improve the practicality of an electrochemical process that converts captured carbon dioxide into multi-carbon molecules—some of the key building blocks of the chemical industry.

One way to upgrade carbon involves electrochemistry—electricity used to drive forward a desired chemical reaction. The conversion is carried out in devices known as electrolyzers, where electrons combine with the reactants at the surface of a solid catalyst.

The team has a proven track record of successfully developing innovative ways to improve the efficiency of electrochemical CO2 conversion.

In their latest published work, the researchers focused on a variant of the process known as “cascade CO2 reduction.” In this two-step process, CO2 is first dissolved in a liquid electrolyte and then passed through an electrolyzer, where it reacts with electrons to form carbon monoxide (CO).

The CO is then passed through a second electrolyzer where it is converted into two-carbon products such as ethanol, which is commonly used as fuel, and ethylene, which is a precursor to many types of plastics as well as other consumer goods.

It is at this second step where the team found inefficiencies they believed could be overcome. The challenges were related to selectivity, which is the ability to maximize production of the target molecules by reducing the formation of undesirable side products.

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Category: Research

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