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 April 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 April 23, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Is North Korea Planning Nuclear Test #4?

Is North Korea Planning Nuclear Test #4?

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) South Korean officials say North Korea is preparing to conduct another nuclear test, but is Pyongyang just bluffing this time? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
China Falls for 4x4s at Beijing Auto Show

China Falls for 4x4s at Beijing Auto Show

AFP (Apr. 22, 2014) The urban 4x4 is the latest must-have for Chinese drivers, whose conversion to the cult of the SUV is the talking point of this year's Beijing auto show. Duration: 00:40 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Lytro Introduces 'Illum,' A Professional Light-Field Camera

Lytro Introduces 'Illum,' A Professional Light-Field Camera

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) The light-field photography engineers at Lytro unveiled their next innovation: a professional DSLR-like camera called "Illum." Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
3 Reasons Why Harley Davidson Is Selling Tons of Epic Hogs

3 Reasons Why Harley Davidson Is Selling Tons of Epic Hogs

TheStreet (Apr. 22, 2014) Sales of motorcycles have continued to ride back from the depths of hell known as the Great Recession. Excluding scooters, sales of motorcycles increased 3% in 2013. In units, however, at 465,000 sold last year, the total remained about 50% below the peak hit in 2007. Industry leader Harley Davidson’s shareholders have benefited both by the industry recovery and positive headlines emanating from the company. Belus Capital Advisors CEO Brian Sozzi takes you beyond the headlines of the motorcycle maker. Video provided by TheStreet
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:
from the past week

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