The key to controlling the selectivity of electrocatalytic hydrogenations is identifying appropriate cathode materials. Our group has been exploring the use of early trasition metal carbide based materials for a variety of electrocatalytic and catalytic reactions. Significant improvements in product yields and selectivities have been demonstrated for the electrocatalytic hydrogenation of triglycerides using W2C and Pd/W2C materials. These improved rates have been linked to hydrogen spillover and synergistic effects between Pd and the W2C support.
The aim of research described in this paper was to investigate the use of a proton exchange membrane reactor for the electrocatalytic hydrogenation of model biomass species including furfural and crotonaldehyde, and compare the results with those from conventional thermocatalytic processes. Expanding upon previous work, the cathode catalyst consisted of a metal active for hydrogenation (Pd, Co, and Ni) supported on traditional thermocatalyst supports (SiO2 and Al2O3), a traditional electrocatalyst supports (carbon), and Mo2C, a conductive thermocatalyst that has been extensively studied for various hydrogenation reactions. Structural and compositional properties of the materials were linked to their hydrogenation rates and selectivities.