Chlorine as a redox mediator allows for the selective oxidation of ethylene to 2-chloroethanol, which converts to ethylene oxide in alkaline aqueous electrolyte. This strategy utilizes abundant saline water as an electrolyte and source of oxygen atoms for functionalization. We present a mechanistic study of ethylene oxidation in saline water using cobalt oxide nanoparticle catalysts. Electrochemical kinetic analysis and in situ X-ray absorption spectroscopy suggest that the resting state of the catalyst and the rate-determining step differ for the chlorine evolution reaction in the presence and absence of ethylene. In 0.6 M NaCl pH 8 electrolyte, which resembles seawater, the average current density was ∼60 mA/cm2 with a Faradaic efficiency of ∼41% toward ethylene functionalization. The use of synthetic and natural seawater achieved Faradaic efficiencies above 70%, while the partial current toward the product remained invariant. Further conversion of the initial product 2-chloroethanol into ethylene glycol was also demonstrated. We present a broader vision of harnessing saline water in electrochemical functionalization of organic molecules and coproduction of hydrogen.
- electrochemical ethylene oxidation
- ethylene oxide
- mechanistic studies
- seawater utilization
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