Electrochemical CO2 reduction is a promising process to store intermittent renewable energy in the form of chemical bonds and to meet the demand for hydrocarbon chemicals without relying on fossil fuels. Researchers in the field have used gas diffusion electrodes (GDEs) to supply CO2 to the catalyst layer from the gas phase. This approach allows us to bypass mass transfer limitations imposed by the limited solubility and diffusion of CO2 in the liquid phase at a laboratory scale. However, at a larger scale, pressure differences across the porous gas diffusion layer can occur. This can lead to flooding and electrolyte breakthrough, which can decrease performance. The aim of this study is to understand the effects of the GDE structure on flooding behavior and CO2 reduction performance. We approach the problem by preparing GDEs from commercial substrates with a range of structural parameters (carbon fiber structure, thickness, and cracks). We then determined the liquid breakthrough pressure and measured the Faradaic efficiency for CO at an industrially relevant current density. We found that there is a trade-off between flooding resistance and mass transfer capabilities that limits the maximum GDE height of a flow-by electrolyzer. This trade-off depends strongly on the thickness and the structure of the carbon fiber substrate. We propose a design strategy for a hierarchically structured GDE, which might offer a pathway to an industrial scale by avoiding the trade-off between flooding resistance and CO2 reduction performance.
- electrochemical engineering
- gas diffusion electrode