Firstly, we will review the literature and our own experimental work which clearly highlight the importance of interfacial pH on the reaction [2-4]. It is well known that in weak buffers such as KHCO3, the pH at the surface of the cathode is significantly higher than the bulk due to the hydrogen evolution and CO2 reduction reactions. By conducting experiments over a range of KHCO3 concentrations (and thus different interfacial pH values), it is clear that this alters the selectivity and activity of CO2 reduction. As the hydrodynamics at the cathode surface will also alter interfacial pH, we have examined the effect of hydrodynamics on the CO2 reduction reaction using a Cu rotating cylinder electrode . Given that the enhanced mass transport will also increase the CO2 concentration at the electrode surface , it seems clear that mass transfer effects should influence the reaction selectivity. We confirm that this is indeed an important factor and suggest that increasing mass transport not only decreases the interfacial pH (closer to bulk values) but also decreases the surface coverage of CO on the cathode (a key immediate during CO2 reduction), which ultimately lowers the current going to the CO2reduction reaction.
As these experiments revealed the importance of both KHCO3 concentration and mass transport, we developed a numerical model to predict how the bulk electrolyte composition changes during long term electrolysis experiments. This model was validated against experiment data and shows that changes in the bulk electrolyte (ionic resistance, pH, CO2-electrolyte equilibria) can occur over the course of long-term electrolysis experiments. These changes can complicate the interpretation of long-term electrode behaviour as well as the control of the electrochemical process. From these findings, we suggest a range of strategies to improve the experimental aspects of electrochemical CO2reduction investigations.
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