Xinming Hu, Halvor Høen Hval, Emil Tveden Bjerglund, Kirstine Junker Dalgaard, Monica Rohde Madsen, Marga-Martina Pohl, Edmund Welter, Paolo Lamagni, Kristian Birk Buhl, Martin Bremholm, Matthias Beller, Steen U. Pedersen, Troels Skrydstrup, Kim Daasbjerg
Earth-abundant transition metal (Fe, Co, or Ni) and nitrogen-doped porous carbon electrocatalysts (M-N-C, where M denotes the metal) were synthesized from cheap precursors via silica-templated pyrolysis. The effect of the material composition and structure (i.e., porosity, nitrogen doping, metal identity, and oxygen functionalization) on the activity for the electrochemical CO2 reduction reaction (CO2RR) was investigated. The metal-free N-C exhibits a high selectivity but low activity for CO2RR. Incorporation of the Fe and Ni, but not Co, sites in the N-C material is able to significantly enhance the activity. The general selectivity order for CO2-to-CO conversion in water is found to be Ni > Fe ≫ Co with respect to the metal in M-N-C, while the activity follows Ni, Fe ≫ Co. Notably, the Ni-doped carbon exhibits a high selectivity with a faradaic efficiency of 93% for CO production. Tafel analysis shows a change of the rate-determining step as the metal overtakes the role of the nitrogen as the most active site. Recording the X-ray photoelectron spectra and extended X-ray absorption fine structure demonstrates that the metals are atomically dispersed in the carbon matrix, most likely coordinated to four nitrogen atoms and with carbon atoms serving as a second coordination shell. Presumably, the carbon atoms in the second coordination shell of the metal sites in M-N-C significantly affect the CO2RR activity because the opposite reactivity order is found for carbon supported metal meso-tetraphenylporphyrin complexes. From a better understanding of the relationship between the CO2RR activity and the material structure, it becomes possible to rationally design high-performance porous carbon electrocatalysts involving earth-abundant metals for CO2 valorization.