A catalyst capable of the electrochemical conversion of nitrogen into usable, storable ammonia under ambient conditions is reported in Nature Communications this week. This finding provides one of the most efficient reported methods for this process.
The ever-increasing global population will require higher productions in food and energy and such food production will require more nitrogen-rich fertilizers to meet crops’ chemical needs. Much of the nitrogen used around the world comes from the industrial Haber-Bosch process, which converts nitrogen in the air to ammonia. Although ammonia is produced on the hundreds-of-megatons-scale around the world, the Haber-Bosch process is highly inefficient and energetically costly. An alternative approach is to use electrical energy to drive ammonia synthesis under ambient conditions however, previous studies of this method have resulted in low levels of production and poor efficiencies.
Xiaofeng Feng and colleagues present a catalyst, which consists of palladium nanoparticles on an electrically conductive carbon support that can transform nitrogen to ammonia using water and electricity. The authors demonstrate that these nanoparticles produce ammonia with a higher efficiency and selectivity than previous attempts using this method. Using neutral water, the authors were able to suppress unwanted side reactions that frequently plague research in this area.
While other reports on using electricity, water, and nitrogen to make ammonia exist, the ammonia detected may have arisen from contaminants in the air or labs. In the current study, the authors were able to demonstrate that the gaseous nitrogen was converted to the synthesized ammonia.