Political developments in the US, India and Australia suggest that coal-fired power plants are on the brink of a renaissance. Even so, the problem of carbon emissions will remain. In addition to the technologies being currently considered for CO2 management at both coal-fired and natural gas-powered thermoelectric power plants, CO2 conversion is an alternative approach to eliminating the harmful environmental effect of excessive CO2 in contributing to global warming. Electrochemical CO2 conversion (ECC) utilizes electricity to directly convert CO2 into formate, alcohol, or hydrocarbon fuels.
An intense, world-wide effort is underway in industrial, government, and academic labs to develop efficient and selective earth-abundant ECC catalysts. ECC is distinct from the photocatalytic conversion of CO2 into light hydrocarbons, which does not involve an external bias to drive the reaction. We propose to use light in addition to electrical bias (photoelectrochemical CO2 conversion) to increase the electrical and photochemical efficiencies for CO2 reduction. The ultimate goals are to develop highly efficient photoelectrochemical catalysts and a cell that converts CO2 into liquid fuels and valuable products.