Structural Transition in an Ionic Liquid Controls CO2 Electrochemical Reduction

Natalia García Rey, Dana D. Dlott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Broad-band multiplex vibrational sum-frequency generation spectroscopy (SFG) was used to study CO2 reduction on a polycrystalline Ag electrode with a room-temperature ionic liquid (RTIL) electrolyte, 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium tetrafluoroborate (EMIM-BF4), with 0.3 mol % water. The Ag/RTIL/H2O system has been shown to reduce CO2 with low overpotential and, depending on water concentration, with Faradaic efficiency of nearly 100% (Rosen, B. A.; Salehi-Khojin, A.; Thorson, M. R.; Zhu, W.; Whipple, D. T.; Kenis, P. J. A.; Masel, R. I. Science 2011, 334, 643-644). The adsorbed CO created by CO2 reduction was probed with infrared (IR) pulses tuned to the CO stretch. Nonresonant (NR) SFG was used to probe the double layer. SFG showed that CO binds weakly to Ag at the CO2 reduction threshold of -1.33 V (vs Ag/AgCl), so CO does not poison the surface. At potentials equal to or more negative than the threshold, the curvature of the parabolic potential-dependent NR intensity significantly increased, and the Stark shift of adsorbed CO, a measure of the surface field, more than doubled. The curvature increase indicates a potential-driven structural transition in the RTIL within the double layer. This transition was a property of the RTIL itself since it occurred whether or not CO2 was present. Significantly, the RTIL transition and the increased surface field occurred precisely at the CO2 reduction threshold. Thus, we have demonstrated a close association between an electrochemically driven structural transition of the RTIL and low overpotential CO2 reduction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20892-20899
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry C
Issue number36
StatePublished - Sep 10 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Energy(all)
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films


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