Nat Commun. 2023 Aug 12;14(1):4882. doi: 10.1038/s41467-023-40689-w.
Electrochemical carbon monoxide (CO) reduction to high-energy-density fuels provides a potential way for chemical production and intermittent energy storage. As a valuable C3 species, n-propanol still suffers from a relatively low Faradaic efficiency (FE), sluggish conversion rate and poor stability. Herein, we introduce an “atomic size misfit” strategy to modulate active sites, and report a facile synthesis of a Pb-doped Cu catalyst with numerous atomic Pb-concentrated grain boundaries. Operando spectroscopy studies demonstrate that these Pb-rich Cu-grain boundary sites exhibit stable low coordination and can achieve a stronger CO adsorption for a higher surface CO coverage. Using this Pb-Cu catalyst, we achieve a CO-to-n-propanol FE (FEpropanol) of 47 ± 3% and a half-cell energy conversion efficiency (EE) of 25% in a flow cell. When applied in a membrane electrode assembly (MEA) device, a stable FEpropanol above 30% and the corresponding full-cell EE of over 16% are maintained for over 100 h with the n-propanol partial current above 300 mA (5 cm2 electrode). Furthermore, operando X-ray absorption spectroscopy and theoretical studies reveal that the structurally-flexible Pb-Cu surface can adaptively stabilize the key intermediates, which strengthens the *CO binding while maintaining the C-C coupling ability, thus promoting the CO-to-n-propanol conversion.