Exploring greener approaches to nitrogen fixation

phys.org | 6/6/2018 | Staff
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About half of the nitrogen in our bodies today comes from bacteria via the enzyme nitrogenase, which converts, or "fixes," unreactive nitrogen gas in the atmosphere into a form that plants can use for growth. The other half is produced artificially through an energy-intensive industrial process developed more than 100 years ago. This process, called Haber-Bosch (H-B) after the two chemists who developed it, produces ammonia by using iron-based catalysts to promote the reaction of nitrogen from the air and hydrogen derived primarily from methane. Through another chemical process (Ostwald), the ammonia gets oxidized (reacts with oxygen) to produce nitric acid—a key fertilizer ingredient.

While the H-B process revolutionized our ability to grow food, it is largely driven by the use of fossil fuels, consuming about two percent of global energy. It also massively contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, releasing two percent of global carbon dioxide.

Routes - Nitrogen - Development - Catalysts - Chemical

Finding more environmentally and energy-friendly routes for transforming nitrogen will require the development of new catalysts to speed up the chemical reactions and renewable energy sources to drive these reactions. In October 2016, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science sponsored a two-day workshop for national lab and university scientists with the relevant expertise to focus on the challenges and opportunities of nitrogen activation. A review article, primarily based on presentations and discussions from this workshop, was published on May 25 in the journal Science.

"The article provides a roadmap for fundamental research on nitrogen transformation reactions," said first and co-corresponding author Jingguang Chen, a senior chemist at DOE's Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Thayer Lindsley Professor of Chemical Engineering at Columbia University. "Many of these reactions can occur under relatively mild conditions—without the high temperatures or pressures required in H-B—but the challenge is to identify catalysts that are active, selective, and stable." Chen; co-corresponding...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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