Ammonia is the second-most produced chemical globally. It is a combination of a single nitrogen atom and three hydrogen atoms. Current methods to produce ammonia through nitrogen need a massive amount of heat released by fossil fuels to break the strong bond between nitrogen atoms, so they bind to hydrogen. This process is centuries old and is responsible for a considerable fraction of greenhouse gas emissions globally, the primary cause of climate change. The chemical is also an essential compound for fertilizers and several manufactured products, including pharmaceuticals and plastics.
Recently, a research team has developed a solar-powered electrochemical reaction that uses wastewater to make ammonia. The novel technique has immense potential and could revolutionize the Green Ammonia Manufacturing Market to reduce greenhouse gases produced due to the burning of fossil fuels. Further, it simultaneously achieves solar-to-fuel efficiency that is ten times better in comparison to any other technology. The method and technology collectively have great potential for enabling on-demand synthesis of fertilizers and might impact energy and agriculture sectors within developing and developed nations.
In previous work, the researchers had already created a method for producing environmentally friendly ammonia. The technique involved pure nitrogen gas by an electrically charged mesh screen that is also catalyst-covered within a water-based solution. The reaction only used a minimal amount of fossil fuel energy for electrifying the screen as it breaks apart nitrogen atoms. However, it also produced way more hydrogen gas than ammonia.
In the present study, researchers have upgraded the concept further and developed a unique method that uses nitrate for getting nitrogen and sunlight to electrify the reaction. The system can produce early 100% ammonia with almost 0% hydrogen gas side reactions. The reactions require no fossil fuel to occur and thereby don’t produce any CO2 either. Moreover, as the method uses solar power, it yields solar-to-fuel efficiency (11%) – never been achieved before. Overall the technique is a ten times improved version of the current state-of-the-art system that produces ammonia with an STF of 1%.
The technique hinges upon a cobalt catalyst. Not only this, but the reaction is also carbon-neutral, which is beneficial for the environment. However, the team has already said that if the technology is developed for industrial usage, it may have a net-negative, stimulating effect on the environment for the time being.
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