Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Diamond catalyst shows promise in breaching age-old barrier

Date:
June 30, 2013
Source:
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Summary:
In the world, there are a lot of small molecules people would like to get rid of, or at least convert to something useful. Think carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas most responsible for far-reaching effects on global climate. Nitrogen is another ubiquitous small-molecule gas that can be transformed into the valuable agricultural fertilizer ammonia. Plants perform the chemical reduction of atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia as a matter of course, but for humans to do that in an industrial setting, a necessity for modern agriculture, requires subjecting nitrogen to massive amounts of energy under high pressure. Now a new method may make a big difference.

In the world, there are a lot of small molecules people would like to get rid of, or at least convert to something useful, according to University of Wisconsin-Madison chemist Robert J. Hamers.

Think carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas most responsible for far-reaching effects on global climate. Nitrogen is another ubiquitous small-molecule gas that can be transformed into the valuable agricultural fertilizer ammonia. Plants perform the chemical reduction of atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia as a matter of course, but for humans to do that in an industrial setting, a necessity for modern agriculture, requires subjecting nitrogen to massive amounts of energy under high pressure.

"The current process for reducing nitrogen to ammonia is done under extreme conditions," explains Hamers, a UW-Madison professor of chemistry. "There is an enormous barrier you have to overcome to get your final product."

Breaching that barrier more efficiently and reducing the huge amounts of energy used to convert nitrogen to ammonia -- by some estimates 2 percent of the world's electrical output -- has been a grail for the agricultural chemical industry. Now, that goal may be on the horizon, thanks to a technique devised by Hamers and his colleagues and published June 30, 2013 in the journal Nature Methods.

Like many chemical reactions, reducing nitrogen to ammonia is a product of catalysis, where the catalytic agent used in the traditional energy-intensive reduction process is iron. The iron, combined with high temperature and high pressure, accelerates the reaction rate for converting nitrogen to ammonia by lowering the activation barrier that otherwise keeps nitrogen, one of the most ubiquitous gases on the planet, intact.

"The nitrogen molecule is one of the happiest molecules around," notes Hamers. "It is incredibly stable. It doesn't do anything."

One of the big obstacles, according to Hamers, is that nitrogen binds poorly to catalytic materials like iron.

Hamers and his team, including Di Zhu, Linghong Zhang and Rose E. Ruther, all of UW-Madison, turned to synthetic industrial diamond -- a cheap, gritty, versatile material -- as a potential new catalyst for the reduction process. Diamond, the Wisconsin team found, can facilitate the reduction of nitrogen to ammonia under ambient temperatures and pressures.

Like all chemical reactions, the reduction of nitrogen to ammonia involves moving electrons from one molecule to another. Using hydrogen-coated diamond illuminated by deep ultraviolet light, the Wisconsin team was able to induce a ready stream of electrons into water, which served as a reactant liquid that reduced nitrogen to ammonia under temperature and pressure conditions far more efficient than those required by traditional industrial methods.

"From a chemist's standpoint, nothing is more efficient than electrons in water," says Hamers, whose work is funded by the National Science Foundation. With the diamond catalyst, "the electrons are unconfined. They flow like lemmings to the sea."

While the method was demonstrated in the context of reducing nitrogen to a valuable agricultural product, the new diamond-centric approach is exciting, Hamers argues, because it can potentially fit a wide range of processes that require catalysis. "This is truly a different way of thinking about inducing reactions that may have more efficiency and applicability. We're doing this with diamond grit. It is infinitely reusable."

The technique devised by Hamers and his colleagues, he notes, still has kinks that need to be worked out to make it a viable alternative to traditional methods. The use of deep ultraviolet light, for example, is a limiting factor. Inducing reactions with visible light is a goal that would enhance the promise of the new technique for applications such as antipollution technology.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Diamond catalyst shows promise in breaching age-old barrier." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 June 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130630144449.htm>.
University of Wisconsin-Madison. (2013, June 30). Diamond catalyst shows promise in breaching age-old barrier. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130630144449.htm
University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Diamond catalyst shows promise in breaching age-old barrier." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130630144449.htm (accessed October 23, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Chameleon Camouflage to Give Tanks Cloaking Capabilities

Chameleon Camouflage to Give Tanks Cloaking Capabilities

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 22, 2014) — Inspired by the way a chameleon changes its colour to disguise itself; scientists in Poland want to replace traditional camouflage paint with thousands of electrochromic plates that will continuously change colour to blend with its surroundings. The first PL-01 concept tank prototype will be tested within a few years, with scientists predicting that a similar technology could even be woven into the fabric of a soldiers' clothing making them virtually invisible to the naked eye. Matthew Stock reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Jet Sales Lift Boeing Profit 18 Pct.

Jet Sales Lift Boeing Profit 18 Pct.

Reuters - Business Video Online (Oct. 22, 2014) — Strong jet demand has pushed Boeing to raise its profit forecast for the third time, but analysts were disappointed by its small cash flow. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Internet of Things Aims to Smarten Your Life

Internet of Things Aims to Smarten Your Life

AP (Oct. 22, 2014) — As more and more Bluetooth-enabled devices are reaching consumers, developers are busy connecting them together as part of the Internet of Things. (Oct. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
What Is Magic Leap, And Why Is It Worth $500M?

What Is Magic Leap, And Why Is It Worth $500M?

Newsy (Oct. 22, 2014) — Magic Leap isn't publicizing much more than a description of its product, but it’s been enough for Google and others to invest more than $500M. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins