New catalyst uses light to convert nitrogen to ammonia



Method could lead to more environmentally friendly fertilizer production

Northwestern University scientists are the first to develop a catalyst that can perform a remarkable feat found only in nature: take nitrogen from the air and turn it into ammonia under natural conditions. No high temperatures or pressure required.

Driven by light, the new method offers promise for a more environmentally friendly fertilizer. (Ammonia is the critical component in fertilizer.)

“This is a big-deal reaction, turning nitrogen into ammonia under ambient conditions,” said inorganic chemist Mercouri G. Kanatzidis, who led the research. “Scientists have been fascinated by the biological enzyme nitrogenase, which catalyzes the reaction in nature, for more than 60 years. Now we have created a successful mimic of nature’s process.”

Kanatzidis is a Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

Plants rely on the nitrogen fixation process for nutrition and growth. Nitrogen straight from the atmosphere is inaccessible to plants, so the nutrient must be in a reduced form, such as ammonia.

The Northwestern method uses light to catalyze the important reaction. A process that uses abundant solar energy to turn nitrogen into ammonia offers an attractive alternative to Haber-Bosch, the industrial standard for producing ammonia, Kanatzidis said. The Haber-Bosch process consumes more than 1 percent of the world’s energy supply.

Read more: New catalyst uses light to convert nitrogen to ammonia


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via  Bing News