Our new JACS paper: Operando X-ray Spectroscopy of Methanol Synthesis from CO2

Revealing the Role of CO during CO2 Hydrogenation on Cu Surfaces with In Situ Soft X-Ray Spectroscopy

J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2023, 145, 12, 6730–6740

The reactions of H2, CO2, and CO gas mixtures on the surface of Cu at 200 °C, relevant for industrial methanol synthesis, are investigated using a combination of ambient pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (AP-XPS) and atmospheric-pressure near edge X-ray absorption fine structure (AtmP-NEXAFS) spectroscopy bridging pressures from 0.1 mbar to 1 bar. We find that the order of gas dosing can critically affect the catalyst chemical state, with the Cu catalyst maintained in a metallic state when H2 is introduced prior to the addition of CO2. Only on increasing the CO2 partial pressure is CuO formation observed that coexists with metallic Cu. When only CO2 is present, the surface oxidizes to Cu2O and CuO, and the subsequent addition of H2 partially reduces the surface to Cu2O without recovering metallic Cu, consistent with a high kinetic barrier to H2dissociation on Cu2O. The addition of CO to the gas mixture is found to play a key role in removing adsorbed oxygen that otherwise passivates the Cu surface, making metallic Cu surface sites available for CO2 activation and subsequent conversion to CH3OH. These findings are corroborated by mass spectrometry measurements, which show increased H2O formation when H2 is dosed before rather than after CO2. The importance of maintaining metallic Cu sites during the methanol synthesis reaction is thereby highlighted, with the inclusion of CO in the gas feed helping to achieve this even in the absence of ZnO as the catalyst support.