Charting C–C coupling pathways in electrochemical CO2 reduction on Cu(111) using embedded correlated wavefunction theory

Qing Zhao, John Mark P. Martirez, Emily A. Carter

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28 Scopus citations


The electrochemical CO2 reduction reaction (CO2RR) powered by excess zero-carbon-emission electricity to produce especially multicarbon (C2+) products could contribute to a carbon-neutral to carbon-negative economy. Foundational to the rational design of efficient, selective CO2RR electrocatalysts is mechanistic analysis of the best metal catalyst thus far identified, namely, copper (Cu), via quantum mechanical computations to complement experiments. Here, we apply embedded correlated wavefunction (ECW) theory, which regionally corrects the electron exchange-correlation error in density functional theory (DFT) approximations, to examine multiple C–C coupling steps involving adsorbed CO (*CO) and its hydrogenated derivatives on the most ubiquitous facet, Cu(111). We predict that two adsorbed hydrogenated CO species, either *COH or *CHO, are necessary precursors for C–C bond formation. The three kinetically feasible pathways involving these species yield all three possible products: *COH–CHO, *COH–*COH, and *OCH–*OCH. The most kinetically favorable path forms *COH–CHO. In contrast, standard DFT approximations arrive at qualitatively different conclusions, namely, that only *CO and *COH will prevail on the surface and their C–C coupling paths produce only *COH–*COH and *CO–*CO, with a preference for the first product. This work demonstrates the importance of applying qualitatively and quantitatively accurate quantum mechanical method to simulate electrochemistry in order ultimately to shed light on ways to enhance selectivity toward C2+ product formation via CO2RR electrocatalysts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2202931119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number44
StatePublished - Nov 1 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • carbon dioxide
  • carbon–carbon coupling
  • copper
  • electrocatalysis
  • electroreduction


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