Scientists at the Univ. of Utah have taken a page from nature’s playbook to produce ammonia at room temperature.
Led by Shelley Minteer, a professor of chemistry and of materials science and engineering, the researchers have developed an enzymatic fuel cell (EFC) that produces ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen, while generating a small amount of electricity.
“It’s a spontaneous process, so rather than having to put energy in, it’s actually generating its own electricity,” Minteer says.
Ammonia is produced industrially via the Haber-Bosch reaction, in which high temperatures (300–400°C) and pressures (about 250 atm) and an iron catalyst are used to form ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen. The process is energy-intensive, consuming more than 1% of the world’s energy supply. Nature, on the other hand, has a more efficient way of producing ammonia, enabled by nitrogenase enzymes, which contain a reducing component (iron protein) and a catalytic protein (typically molybdenum-based)...
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