The Electrolysis of Nitrogen Gas to Ammonia

The Electrolysis of Nitrogen Gas to Ammonia

Scientific Achievement

A novel catalyst that electrochemically reduces nitrogen gas (N2) to ammonia (NH3) in water at room temperature.

Significance and Impact
Top: carbon nanospikes act as a conduit for electrons to react with dissolved nitrogen gas in water, by creating high localized electric fields (green cloud). Bottom: transmission electron micrograph of carbon nanospikes. (hi-res image)

This catalyst demonstrates an emissions-free pathway for the activation of nitrogen gas to make ammonia, a chemical which is the foundation of modern agriculture.

Research Details

– The catalyst is a nanotextured carbon, with sharp spikes that create high local electric fields, that can destabilize the nitrogen molecule and allow it to react.

– The high electric fields also help to exclude water and raise the efficiency of the reaction.

Y. Song, D. Johnson, R. Peng, D. K. Hensley, P. V. Bonnesen, L. Liang, J. Huang, F. Yang, F. Zhang, R. Qiao, A. P. Baddorf, T. J. Tschaplinski, N. L. Engle, M. C. Hatzell, Z. Wu, D. A. Cullen, H. M. Meyer, B. G. Sumpter and A. J. Rondinone, "A physical catalyst for the electrolysis of nitrogen to ammonia," Science Advances 4, 4 (2018).  DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700336

CNMS Researchers