In this 13-part series of articles, The Combustion Institute recognizes the 2023 Distinguished Papers selected from among the scientific papers presented during the 39th International Symposium on Combustion. Congratulations to Simon Rihm, Jethro Akroyd, and Markus Kraft for winning the DPA in the Multi-Physics Phenomena colloquium.

In their paper, “Modelling a detailed kinetic mechanism for electrocatalytic reduction of CO2,” Rihm, Akroyd, and Kraft were inspired by the need to combat global warming by tackling two of the most important challenges: carbon utilization and efficient energy storage. The electrochemical conversion of CO2 to commodity chemicals is one promising solution, but to date, scientists have been unable to design a reactor with sufficient efficiency and stability for commercially relevant applications. Incomplete understanding of active reaction paths hinders the creation of such a reactor.

It is necessary to have a detailed understanding of the underlying reaction mechanism in order to predict catalyst behavior on a first-principal level. One can achieve this by microkinetic modelling of elementary reaction steps which is not common yet and poses challenges in the novel field of electrochemical synthesis and heterogeneous systems. This paper presents the first fully elementary microkinetic model for electrochemical CO2 reduction (eCO2R) towards different products and verified it with experimental data.

One goal of this paper is to make current experts in kinetics aware of the presented challenges in emerging fields. Also, the paper is trying to educate researchers in the field of electrochemical CO2 reduction that first-principle models are possible and help others to understand the reaction mechanism.

Looking forward, the authors believe that their studies will benefit the combustion community by motivating them to investigate emerging fields outside of the traditional scope, especially as the community moves towards “Emphasizing Energy Transition”. Researchers trying to understand the effects of catalyst configuration and environmental conditions on eCO2R performance can use the presented model to do so. The underlying code is based on the open-source tool Cantera and fully available on GitHub, so others who want to create similar models can build on it and the now-established procedure of model generation and verification.

Research in the elementary kinetics of electrochemical CO2 reduction began in September 2020 for these researchers, and work on the specific model presented in this paper ended in December 2021. This research occurred at the Cambridge Centre for Advanced Research and Education in Singapore as a part of Singapore’s CREATE (Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise) campus.

Over 1,500 papers were submitted to the 39th International Symposium on Combustion. All papers were categorized into one of 13 colloquia, and then distributed to colloquium coordinators and co-chairs. Each paper received at least three reviews from qualified individuals through the peer-review process. Less than 50 percent of the papers submitted were accepted for presentation.

Following the symposium, one paper presented in each colloquium is awarded the distinction of Distinguished Paper. Visit here to view the presentation. The 13 Distinguished Papers undergo committee review for consideration for the Silver Combustion Medal. A paper selected for this honor exemplifies quality, achievement, and significance to advance a field of combustion science, and will be awarded during the 40th International Symposium in Milan, Italy.