Digital Twin for Efficient CO2 Electrolysis for the Production of Sustainable Fuels and Raw Materials

Researchers at the Helmholtz Institute Erlangen-Nuremberg for Renewable Energy (HI ERN), a branch of Forschungszentrum Jülich have succeeded in taking an important step towards overcoming the major technical challenges of CO2 electrolysis that still exist: For the first time, they were able to reproduce the gas diffusion electrode (GDE) at the heart of the electrolyzer by means of a digital twin – a computer model, which mirrors the physical electrode as accurately as possible.

The emerging technology of CO2 electrolysis enables the production of fuels and chemical raw materials from CO2. Ideally, atmospheric carbon dioxide and renewable energy are used for CO2 conversion. The hydrocarbons produced in this way can be used both as feedstock for the chemical industry and for the production of fuels – and thus form an alternative, defossilized basis of a sustainable carbon cycle.

Scientific result

David McLaughlin, Markus Bierling, Britta Mayerhöfer, Simon Thiele from HI ERN, and Günter Schmid from Siemens Energy Global GmbH & Co. KG were not only able to gain unprecedented insight into the structure of such electrodes, but also to extract important structural descriptors and transport parameters. The results were recently published in the prestigious journal Advanced Functional Materials.

By bridging scales and using multiple imaging methods, this created a digital twin that enables digital investigation, simulation and modification of the electrode structure on a computer. To achieve efficient and large-scale CO2 electrolysis, the optimal structure for the gas diffusion electrode must be found. This is a prerequisite for higher conversion efficiencies and longer lifetime at lower cost. The critical structural properties of the electrode range from nanometers to millimeters, which can be captured over several orders of magnitude in the fully resolved model of the electrode.

Social and scientific relevance

A crucial lever for reducing climate-damaging carbon dioxide emissions in the fight against climate change is defossilization: the avoidance of hydrocarbonsfrom fossil sources. However, carbons are indispensable components in many areas of life and the economy. In particular, they are needed to produce fuels and chemical feedstocks.

The emerging technology of CO2 electrolysis offers an alternative to this. Optimization of the gas diffusion electrode is considered one of the essential prerequisites for efficient and large-scale use. The scientists have now succeeded for the first time in reproducing a gas diffusion electrode for CO2electrolysis as a digital twin on all relevant length scales. The methodology forms the basis for further work in the future and is to be used, among other things, in the "Power-to-X" (P2X) project.

Original publication

David McLaughlin, Markus Bierling, Britta Mayerhöfer, Günter Schmid, Simon Thiele
Digital Twin of a Hierarchical CO2 Electrolyzer Gas Diffusion Electrode
Advanced Functional Materials (20 December 2022), DOI: 10.1002/adfm.202212462

Video: Digital twin model of the gas diffusion electrode (GDE)

The layer-by-layer animations show the structure of the electrode, as well as the more highly resolved layers of the electrode. (Length: 00:59 min)


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Last Modified: 08.03.2023