News Release

Deciphering catalysts: Unveiling structure-activity correlations

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Advanced Institute for Materials Research (AIMR), Tohoku University

Figure 1


The standard research paradigm uncovers the structure-property-activity relationships for the electrochemical CO2 reduction reaction (CO2RR) over SnO2. This picture illustrates the surface reconstruction induced by oxygen vacancies (1/1 ML coverage) and surface-active species (Sn layer) accountable for selective HCOOH production.

view more 

Credit: Hao Li et al.

In a new step towards combating climate change and transitioning to sustainable solutions, a group of researchers has developed a research paradigm that makes it easier to decipher the relationship between catalyst structures and their reactions.

Details of the researchers' breakthrough were published in the journal Angewandte Chemie on January 29, 2024.

Understanding how a catalyst's surface affects its activity can aid the design of efficient catalyst structures for specific reactivity requirements. However, grasping the mechanisms behind this relationship is no straightforward task given the complicated interface microenvironment of electrocatalysts.

"To decipher this, we honed in on the electrochemical CO2 reduction reaction (CO2RR) in Tin-Oxide-based (Sn-O) catalysts," points out Hao Li, associate professor at Tohoku University's Advanced Institute for Materials Research (WPI-AIMR) and corresponding author of the paper. "In doing so, we not only uncovered the active surface species of SnO2-based catalysts during CO2RR but also established a clear correlation between surface speciation and CO2RR performance."

CO2RR is recognized as a promising method for reducing CO2 emissions and producing high-value fuels, with formic acid (HCOOH) being a noteworthy product because of its various applications in industries such as pharmaceuticals, metallurgy, and environmental remediation.

The proposed method helped identify the genuine surface states of SnO2 responsible for its performance in CO2 reduction reactions under specific electrocatalytic conditions. Moreover, the team corroborated their findings through experiments using various SnO2 shapes and advanced characterization techniques.

Li and his colleagues developed their methodology by combining theoretical studies with experimental electrochemical techniques.

"We bridged the gap between the theoretical and experimental, offering a comprehensive understanding of catalyst behavior under real-world conditions in the process," adds Li.

The research team is now focused on applying this methodology to a variety of electrochemical reactions. In doing those, they hope to uncover more about unique structure-activity correlations, accelerating the design of high-performance and scalable electrocatalysts.

About the World Premier International Research Center Initiative (WPI)

The WPI program was launched in 2007 by Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) to foster globally visible research centers boasting the highest standards and outstanding research environments. Numbering more than a dozen and operating at institutions throughout the country, these centers are given a high degree of autonomy, allowing them to engage in innovative modes of management and research. The program is administered by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS).

See the latest research news from the centers at the WPI News Portal:
Main WPI program site:

Advanced Institute for Materials Research (AIMR)
Tohoku University

Establish a World-Leading Research Center for Materials Science
AIMR aims to contribute to society through its actions as a world-leading research center for materials science and push the boundaries of research frontiers. To this end, the institute gathers excellent researchers in the fields of physics, chemistry, materials science, engineering, and mathematics and provides a world-class research environment.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.