This literature discussion is based on an article describing the use of copper nanoparticles on an N-doped textured graphene material to carry out the highly selective reduction of CO2 to ethanol (Yang Song et al., “High-Selectivity Electrochemical Conversion of CO2 to Ethanol using a Copper Nanoparticle / N-Doped Graphene Electrode” ChemistrySelect 2016, 1, 6055-6061. DOI: 10.1002/slct.201601169). The article provides a good introduction to the concepts of electrochemical reduction, selectivity and recycling of fossil fuels. The literature discussion assignment shared here was used as half of the final exam in a half-credit nanomaterials chemistry course, but could be adapted for use as a take-home or in-class assignment.
After reading this paper and working through the problems, a student will be able to:
- assign oxidation states to carbon and trace the oxidation and reduction of carbon through fossil fuel combustion and CO2 conversion
- describe the role of control experiments in studying the CO2 conversion presented in the article
- define the word “selective” in the context of this research
- use the proposed mechanism to explain why the electrode studied produces ethanol in such a high proportion
- identify the primary reaction competing with CO2 reduction for available electrons
These questions comprised half of the final exam for my half-credit nanomaterials chemistry course in the fall of 2016. I gave the article to the students one week ahead of time. They were encouraged to read the article, make any small notes they liked, and meet with me in office hours with questions. At the final exam they were allowed to use their copy of the article, but they were also required to hand in their copy with their exam so that I could make sure they hadn't written lots of extraneous information on the exam copy.
The nanomaterials course features near-weekly homework assignments centered around articles from the literature. Because I used this article at the end of the course, students were already familiar with nanomaterials synthesis and characterization techniques. Thus, some of the questions I asked relied on previous knowledge.
Please feel free to adapt these questions and add some of your own. Leave comments describing any new questions you’ve added.