Chemists Discover New Way To Harness Energy From Ammonia

fahrbot-bot shares a report from Phys.Org: A research team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has identified a new way to convert ammonia to nitrogen gas through a process that could be a step toward ammonia replacing carbon-based fuels. The discovery of this technique, which uses a metal catalyst and releases -- rather than requires -- energy, was reported Nov. 8 in Nature Chemistry and has received a provisional patent from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. The scientists were excited to find that the addition of ammonia to a metal catalyst containing the platinum-like element ruthenium spontaneously produced nitrogen, which means that no added energy was required. Instead, this process can be harnessed to produce electricity, with protons and nitrogen gas as byproducts. In addition, the metal complex can be recycled through exposure to oxygen and used repeatedly, all a much cleaner process than using carbon-based fuels. "We figured out that, not only are we making nitrogen, we are making it under conditions that are completely unprecedented," says Berry, who is the Lester McNall Professor of Chemistry and focuses his research efforts on transition metal chemistry. "To be able to complete the ammonia-to-nitrogen reaction under ambient conditions -- and get energy -- is a pretty big deal." Ammonia has been burned as a fuel source for many years. During World War II, it was used in automobiles, and scientists today are considering ways to burn it in engines as a replacement for gasoline, particularly in the maritime industry. However, burning ammonia releases toxic nitrogen oxide gases. The new reaction avoids those toxic byproducts. If the reaction were housed in a fuel cell where ammonia and ruthenium react at an electrode surface, it could cleanly produce electricity without the need for a catalytic converter.

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