The Danish National Research Foundation has granted our and Troels Skrydstrup’s group 60 mill. DKK to establish a Center of Excellence in Carbon Dioxide Activation running from April 2015-March 2021. A four‑years extension with additional 40 mill. DKK in funding is conceivable, if the center performs well.
Our combined expertise in electrochemistry, modification of surfaces, polymer brushes, and carbon materials makes us ready to meet a scientifically difficult challenge of great societal importance, i.e., conversion of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, to useful building blocks for the chemical industry or the energy sector. The basic research idea is that the electrocatalyst (or photocatalyst) is positioned in the close vicinity of a CO2 capturing agent by means of the recently developed poly(glycidyl methacrylate) (PGMA) brushes (vide supra) to overcome, in this manner, the high activation barrier associated with the reduction of CO2 to useful chemical products such as (COOH)2, CH3COOH, CH3OH, HCOOH, and CO. The polymer brushes are attached at graphene sheets to ensure that the electrical conductivity of the resulting large‑area support material becomes sufficiently high to make the electrocatalysis process possible.
In the past four years, we have made a number of achievements on electrochemical CO2 conversion to carbon monoxide (CO), an important C1 feedstock for industrial applications. We for the first time coupled the electrochemical CO2-to-CO conversion and the follow-up utilization of CO for synthesis of pharmaceutical-related molecules. In our other works, we demonstrated the importance of carbon materials for electrochemical CO2 reduction. First, carbon materials can serve as support for molecular complex catalysts and make these catalysts applicable for heterogeneous electrocatalysis. The presence of carbon materials facilitates the dispersion of the catalysts and electron transfer from electrode to catalysts, thereby enhancing the catalytic activity for heterogeneous CO2 reduction. Second, carbon materials can serve as support to stabilize single metal atoms. The single atom catalysts (SACs) supported in carbon shows maximized atomic efficiency and high activity/selectivity/stability for CO2 reduction. These works led to a number of publications in high-impact journals, including Nature Catalysis, Nature Communications, Angewandte Chemie International Edition, ACS Catalysis etc.