Electrochemical carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction can in principle convert carbon emissions to fuels and value-added chemicals, such as hydrocarbons and alcohols, using renewable energy, but the efficiency of the process is limited by its sluggish kinetics1,2. Molecular catalysts have well defined active sites and accurately tailorable structures that allow mechanism-based performance optimization, and transition-metal complexes have been extensively explored in this regard. However, these catalysts generally lack the ability to promote CO2 reduction beyond the two-electron process to generate more valuable products1,3. Here we show that when immobilized on carbon nanotubes, cobalt phthalocyanine—used previously to reduce CO2 to primarily CO—catalyses the six-electron reduction of CO2 to methanol with appreciable activity and selectivity. We find that the conversion, which proceeds via a distinct domino process with CO as an intermediate, generates methanol with a Faradaic efficiency higher than 40 per cent and a partial current density greater than 10 milliamperes per square centimetre at −0.94 volts with respect to the reversible hydrogen electrode in a near-neutral electrolyte. The catalytic activity decreases over time owing to the detrimental reduction of the phthalocyanine ligand, which can be suppressed by appending electron-donating amino substituents to the phthalocyanine ring. The improved molecule-based electrocatalyst converts CO2 to methanol with considerable activity and selectivity and with stable performance over at least 12 hours.
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