Research ArticleENGINEERING

Biofunctionalized conductive polymers enable efficient CO2 electroreduction

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Science Advances  04 Aug 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 8, e1700686
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700686

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Selective electrocatalysts are urgently needed for carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction to replace fossil fuels with renewable fuels, thereby closing the carbon cycle. To date, noble metals have achieved the best performance in energy yield and faradaic efficiency and have recently reached impressive electrical-to-chemical power conversion efficiencies. However, the scarcity of precious metals makes the search for scalable, metal-free, CO2 reduction reaction (CO2RR) catalysts all the more important. We report an all-organic, that is, metal-free, electrocatalyst that achieves impressive performance comparable to that of best-in-class Ag electrocatalysts. We hypothesized that polydopamine—a conjugated polymer whose structure incorporates hydrogen-bonded motifs found in enzymes—could offer the combination of efficient electrical conduction, together with rendered active catalytic sites, and potentially thereby enable CO2RR. Only by developing a vapor-phase polymerization of polydopamine were we able to combine the needed excellent conductivity with thin film–based processing. We achieve catalytic performance with geometric current densities of 18 mA cm−2 at 0.21 V overpotential (−0.86 V versus normal hydrogen electrode) for the electrosynthesis of C1 species (carbon monoxide and formate) with continuous 16-hour operation at >80% faradaic efficiency. Our catalyst exhibits lower overpotentials than state-of-the-art formate-selective metal electrocatalysts (for example, 0.5 V for Ag at 18 mA cm−1). The results confirm the value of exploiting hydrogen-bonded sequences as effective catalytic centers for renewable and cost-efficient industrial CO2RR applications.

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