Steffen Hardt, Stefanie Stapf, Dawit T. Filmon, James A. Birrell, Olaf Rüdiger, Vincent Fourmond, Christophe Léger & Nicolas Plumeré, Nature Catalysis, 2021, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41929-021-00586-1
Efficient electrocatalytic energy conversion requires devices to function reversibly, that is, to deliver a substantial current at a minimal overpotential. Redox-active films can effectively embed and stabilize molecular electrocatalysts, but mediated electron transfer through the film typically makes the catalytic response irreversible. Here we describe a redox-active film for bidirectional (oxidation or reduction) and reversible hydrogen conversion, which consists of [FeFe] hydrogenase embedded in a low-potential, 2,2′-viologen-modified hydrogel. When this catalytic film served as the anode material in a H2/O2 biofuel cell, an open circuit voltage of 1.16 V was obtained — a benchmark value near the thermodynamic limit. The same film also acted as a highly energy efficient cathode material for H2 evolution. We explained the catalytic properties using a kinetic model, which shows that reversibility can be achieved even though intermolecular electron transfer is slower than catalysis. This understanding of reversibility simplifies the design principles of highly efficient and stable bioelectrocatalytic films, advancing their implementation in energy conversion.