Sequential co-reduction of nitrate and carbon dioxide enables selective urea electrosynthesis
Despite the recent achievements in urea electrosynthesis from co-reduction of nitrogen wastes (such as NO3−) and CO2, the product selectivity remains fairly mediocre due to the competing nature of the two parallel reduction reactions. Here we report a catalyst design that affords high selectivity to urea by sequentially reducing NO3− and CO2 at a dynamic catalytic centre, which not only alleviates the competition issue but also facilitates C−N coupling. We exemplify this strategy on a nitrogen-doped carbon catalyst, where a spontaneous switch between NO3− and CO2 reduction paths is enabled by reversible hydrogenation on the nitrogen functional groups. A high urea yield rate of 596.1 µg mg−1 h−1 with a promising Faradaic efficiency of 62% is obtained. These findings, rationalized by in situ spectroscopic techniques and theoretical calculations, are rooted in the proton-involved dynamic catalyst evolution that mitigates overwhelming reduction of reactants and thereby minimizes the formation of side products.
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