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Metal ion cycling of Cu foil for selective C–C coupling in electrochemical CO2 reduction

Nature Catalysisvolume 1pages111119 (2018) | Download Citation


Electrocatalytic CO2 reduction to higher-value hydrocarbons beyond C1 products is desirable for applications in energy storage, transportation and the chemical industry. Cu catalysts have shown the potential to catalyse C–C coupling for C2+ products, but still suffer from low selectivity in water. Here, we use density functional theory to determine the energetics of the initial C–C coupling steps on different Cu facets in CO2 reduction, and suggest that the Cu(100) and stepped (211) facets favour C2+ product formation over Cu(111). To demonstrate this, we report the tuning of facet exposure on Cu foil through the metal ion battery cycling method. Compared with the polished Cu foil, our 100-cycled Cu nanocube catalyst with exposed (100) facets presents a sixfold improvement in C2+ to C1 product ratio, with a highest C2+ Faradaic efficiency of over 60% and H2 below 20%, and a corresponding C2+ current of more than 40 mA cm–2.

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This work was supported by the Rowland Fellows Program at Rowland Institute, Harvard University. H.W. and K.J. acknowledge great support from C. M. Friend at Harvard University. This work was performed in part at the Center for Nanoscale Systems (CNS), a member of the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN), which is supported by the National Science Foundation under NSF award no. ECS-0335765. CNS is part of Harvard University. Theoretical calculations were based upon work performed by the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, a DOE Energy Innovation Hub, supported through the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy under award no. DE-SC0004993. This research used resources of the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, a DOE Office of Science User Facility supported by the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy under contract no. DE-AC02-05CH11231.

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Author notes

  1. Kun Jiang and Robert B. Sandberg contributed equally to this work.


  1. Rowland Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA

    • Kun Jiang
    •  & Haotian Wang
  2. SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis, Department of Chemical Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA

    • Robert B. Sandberg
    • , Xinyan Liu
    • , Jens K. Nørskov
    •  & Karen Chan
  3. Center for Nanoscale Systems, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA

    • Austin J. Akey
    •  & David C. Bell
  4. Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA

    • David C. Bell
  5. SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Menlo Park, CA, USA

    • Jens K. Nørskov
    •  & Karen Chan


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H.W. designed the experiments of this project. K.C. designed the simulations of this project. K.J. and H.W. performed materials synthesis and catalysis measurements. K.J., A.J.A. and H.W. performed material characterizations. R.B.S., X.L. and K.C. performed simulations. H.W., K.J., K.C., R.B.S. and X.L. wrote the manuscript. K.J., R.B.S., A.J.A., X.L., D.C.B., J.K.N., K.C. and H.W. analysed the results.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Karen Chan or Haotian Wang.

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    Supplementary Figures 1–25, Supplementary Tables 1–7, Supplementary References.

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