Insights Into Electrochemical CO2 Reduction on Metallic and Oxidized Tin Using Grand-Canonical DFT and In-Situ ATR-SEIRA Spectroscopy

Todd Whittaker, Yuval Fishler, Jacob Clary, Paige Brimley, Adam Holewinski, Charles Musgrave, Carrie Farberow, Wilson Smith, Derek Vigil-Fowler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Electrochemical CO2 reduction (CO2R) to formate is an attractive carbon emissions mitigation strategy due to the existing market and attractive price for formic acid. Tin is an effective electrocatalyst for CO2R to formate, but the underlying reaction mechanism and whether the active phase of tin is metallic or oxidized during reduction is openly debated. In this report, we used grand-canonical density functional theory and attenuated total reflection surface-enhanced infrared absorption spectroscopy to identify differences in the vibrational signatures of surface species during CO2R on fully metallic and oxidized tin surfaces. Our results show that CO2R is feasible on both metallic and oxidized tin. We propose that the key difference between each surface termination is that CO2R catalyzed by metallic tin surfaces is limited by the electrochemical activation of CO2, whereas CO2R catalyzed by oxidized tin surfaces is limited by the slow reductive desorption of formate. While the exact degree of oxidation of tin surfaces during CO2R is unlikely to be either fully metallic or fully oxidized, this study highlights the limiting behavior of these two surfaces and lays out the key features of each that our results predict will promote rapid CO2R catalysis. Additionally, we highlight the power of integrating high-fidelity quantum mechanical modeling and spectroscopic measurements to elucidate intricate electrocatalytic reaction pathways.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)8353-8365
Number of pages13
JournalACS Catalysis
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2024

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2C00-89848


  • CO2 reduction
  • formic acid production
  • grand-canonical DFT
  • mechanism evaluation


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