Novel reaction could spark alternate approach to ammonia production


We’ve discovered a new catalyst and this
catalyst uses very small spikes to generate very high electric fields that
can use electrochemistry to convert nitrogen into ammonia. Most people
associate ammonia with glass cleaners and kitchen cleaners. The truth is
ammonia is a big part of fertilizer, which is critical for modern agriculture.
And so because of that the world makes about a 150 million tons
of ammonia per year. The problem with the way that we make ammonia now is it
utilizes natural gas, and that natural gas goes through a process it releases
carbon dioxide and so it’s a big contributor to CO2 emissions. So we’ve
been searching alternative means to produce ammonia. The way our catalyst
works is it’s a layer made up of lots of very very sharp very very small
spikes, we call these carbon nano spikes. They’re made from a form of graphene and
these spikes are almost atomically sharp, and so at that very very sharp point we
can generate very high electric field. These very high electric fields can
destabilize and otherwise very stable nitrogen molecule, which starts us down
the path of converting it to ammonia. In the future, if we can eliminate fossil
fuels the only means left to move energy around the country in large amounts is
by electricity, with power lines, and so we need the technologies to take
renewable electricity in large amounts and convert it into the things that we
need for everyday modern life. And that’s one reason we’re looking at
electrochemical strategies for making ammonia this technology is still at a
very early stage. We’ve achieved performance that nobody else has so far.
If we’re wildly successful we might be in a place in ten years where we can
make a significant amount of our ammonia and fertilizer using electrochemical
strategies.

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