What is it about?

This paper examines the principles of electrochemical carbon dioxide (CO₂) reduction (ECR) and conditions needed to generate ethanol, which is an important industrial input product. The authors also make suggestions for enhancing the ECR process via novel catalyst de-sign strategies, catalysts being crucial to driving and controlling reactions to yield the desired products in the required amounts. For instance, the authors suggest using new alternative catalysts, with improved porosity, surface morphology, and performance. Another approach could be the blocking of ethanol ‘destabilising’ pathways. The authors explain that ‘gas diffusion electrodes’, which are useful for CO₂ conversion, create issues during ethanol recovery. Not only is the process cumbersome and expensive, it also decreases the overall ethanol concentration. To overcome this problem, further research on developing new membranes-electrode-assembly systems to improve ECR technology is suggested.

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Why is it important?

Greenhouse gases, particularly CO₂, are the biggest contributors to global warming. Deploying technologies for CO₂ capture and sequestration, and conversion into useful products, is the need of the hour. ECR allows for the selective generation of a wide range of chemicals, including hydrocarbons and alcohols, which are useful industrial inputs. Particularly, ethanol, owing to its diverse uses, is of major interest among the several products that ECR can generate. One of the biggest challenges to ECR-based ethanol production is the inclination of chemical pathways to produce other compounds instead of ethanol. While it is easy to suppress some of these unwanted products, competing with ‘ethylene’ is difficult due to the pathways' strong preferential selectivity towards it. Approaches for driving selectivity towards ethanol are crucial for achieving greater production and using this technology on an industrial scale. KEY TAKEAWAY: Using ECR to generate useful products while mitigating CO₂ emissions should be a major international research priority to combat climate change.

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This page is a summary of: Electrochemical CO2 reduction to ethanol: from mechanistic understanding to catalyst design, Journal of Materials Chemistry A, January 2021, Royal Society of Chemistry, DOI: 10.1039/d1ta01115d.
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