Electrochemical Reduction of Carbon Dioxide

  • Briony Setterfield-Price

Student thesis: Phd


The work undertaken involved the exploration of CO2 electroreduction systems, focussing heavily upon electrocatalysis utilising an array of electrochemical, spectroelectrochemical and spectroscopic techniques.The identification and characterisation of a relatively inexpensive and simple electrocatalyst for CO2 reduction was achieved, with the optimisation and development undertaken in such a manner that not just the electrocatalytic species, but also the entire electrochemical system was investigated, in order to determine and better understand the roles played by the various components.The complex of interest, Mo(CO)4bpy, represents the first molybdenum based molecular electrocatalyst reported to be active toward CO2 reduction, despite the prominence of Mo in enzymes with analogous function. The electrochemical characterisation of the complex in the both the presence and absence of CO2 was undertaken, yielding valuable information on the redox behaviour of the complex within the non-aqueous system in which it was employed and highlighting previously unreported features such as a third reduction and new reoxidation attributed to the reoxidation of a tricarbonyl anionic species. Non-aqueous solvents were chosen as they provide greater CO2 solubility than water with portions of the investigation undertaken in tetrahydrofuran, THF, then moving to the less widely used N-methylpyrrolidone, NMP. NMP is significantly less volatile than THF and has a large negative electrochemical window so is ideal for looking at reduction processes and, importantly, is also used as a commercial CO2 scrubbing solvent.Upon addition of CO2 to the Mo(CO)4bpy system there was an observable lowering of the overpotential by over 300 mV, and significant increase in CO2 associated current when compared to that for 'direct' CO2 reduction within the same system, at the reduction potential associated with the first reduction of the tetracarbonyl bipyridyl species. The confirmation of the anionic radical as the active species was attained through DFT calculation and EPR spectroelectrochemistry. Under inert gas the spectrum rapidly generated upon application of the first reduction potential is consistent with the expected response for the radical anionic [Mo(CO)4bpy] •-. When the system is saturated with CO2 this radical is no longer detectable. This supports the idea that the unpaired electron is transferred from the [Mo(CO)4bpy]•- to the CO2 molecule and also suggests that this transfer is rapid as no adduct is detectable via EPR even at reduced temperature (240 K). This is in keeping with the rate constants calculated from the voltammetric measurements made. The stability and activity toward CO2 reduction exhibited by Mo(CO)4bpy displayed a strong dependence on working electrode material, with gold proving optimal, indicative of adsorption being significant in the process.Optimisation of both the catalyst structure and the solvent and electrolyte system were also explored, as well as the (somewhat less directly related) comparison of various sources of diffusivity data.
Date of Award31 Dec 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorRobert Dryfe (Supervisor)


  • Electrochemistry
  • Carbon dioxide

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