An electrochemical device converts carbon dioxide to a reaction product. The device includes an anode and a cathode, each comprising a quantity of catalyst. The anode and cathode each has reactant introduced thereto. A polymer electrolyte membrane is interposed between the anode and the cathode. At least a portion of the cathode catalyst is directly exposed to gaseous carbon dioxide during electrolysis. The average current density at the membrane is at least 20 mA/cm.sup.2, measured as the area of the cathode gas diffusion layer that is covered by catalyst, and CO selectivity is at least 50% at a cell potential of 3.0 V. In some embodiments, the polymer electrolyte membrane comprises a polymer in which a constituent monomer is (p-vinylbenzyl)-R, where R is selected from the group consisting of imidazoliums, pyridiniums and phosphoniums. In some embodiments, the polymer electrolyte membrane is a Helper Membrane comprising a polymer containing an imidazolium ligand, a pyridinium ligand, or a phosphonium ligand.
STATEMENT OF GOVERNMENT INTEREST
 This invention was made, at least in part, with U.S. government support under ARPA-E Contract No. DE-AR-0000345 and the Department of Energy under Contract No. DE-SC0004453. The government has certain rights in the invention.