This work is a collaborative effort between the Dlott spectroscopy group and Dioxide Materials, a company founded by Prof. Richard Masel. In the conventional photosynthesis-fuel cycle, sunlight causes green plants to grow. The growth involves converting carbon dioxide and water from the air and soil into biomass. The biomass is harvested and converted to fuels. Burning the fuels creates carbon dioxide and water. In artificial photosynthesis, carbon dioxide from the air is electrochemically reduced to carbon monoxide and water is reduced to H2 and O2. The current needed for the electrochemistry is generated by solar cells. The H2 and CO form feedstock for synfuels. Although a great deal of attention has been focused on the water part of the equation, reducing water to H2 and O2, less attention has been paid to reducing CO2 to CO. Systems used to do this so far have a large overpotential, which wastes much of the electric energy as heat. Dioxide Materials specializes in the development of co-catalysts for electrochemistry. A co-catalyst that greatly reduces this overpotential has been discovered, consisting of a metal electrode with a thin layer of adsorbed ionic liquid. In collaboration with the Dlott group, the mechanisms underlying the activity of this cocatalyst have been studied using SFG.

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