Looking for options to sustainably fixate nitrogen. Are molecular metal oxides catalysts a viable avenue?

González-Cabaleiro, R. , Thompson, J. A. and Vilà-Nadal, L. (2021) Looking for options to sustainably fixate nitrogen. Are molecular metal oxides catalysts a viable avenue? Frontiers in Chemistry, 9, 742565. (doi: 10.3389/fchem.2021.742565)

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Fast and reliable industrial production of ammonia (NH3) is fundamentally sustaining modern society. Since the early 20th Century, NH3 has been synthesized via the Haber–Bosch process, running at conditions of around 350–500°C and 100–200 times atmospheric pressure (15–20 MPa). Industrial ammonia production is currently the most energy-demanding chemical process worldwide and contributes up to 3% to the global carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore, the development of more energy-efficient pathways for ammonia production is an attractive proposition. Over the past 20 years, scientists have imagined the possibility of developing a milder synthesis of ammonia by mimicking the nitrogenase enzyme, which fixes nitrogen from the air at ambient temperatures and pressures to feed leguminous plants. To do this, we propose the use of highly reconfigurable molecular metal oxides or polyoxometalates (POMs). Our proposal is an informed design of the polyoxometalate after exploring the catabolic pathways that cyanobacteria use to fix N2 in nature, which are a different route than the one followed by the Haber–Bosch process. Meanwhile, the industrial process is a “brute force” system towards breaking the triple bond N-N, needing high pressure and high temperature to increase the rate of reaction, nature first links the protons to the N2 to later easier breaking of the triple bond at environmental temperature and pressure. Computational chemistry data on the stability of different polyoxometalates will guide us to decide the best design for a catalyst. Testing different functionalized molecular metal oxides as ammonia catalysts laboratory conditions will allow for a sustainable reactor design of small-scale production.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Vila-Nadal, Dr Laia and Thompson, Jake and Gonzalez-Cabaleiro, Dr Rebeca
Authors: González-Cabaleiro, R., Thompson, J. A., and Vilà-Nadal, L.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Chemistry
College of Science and Engineering > School of Engineering > Infrastructure and Environment
Journal Name:Frontiers in Chemistry
Publisher:Frontiers Media
ISSN (Online):2296-2646
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2021 González-Cabaleiro, Thompson and Vilà-Nadal
First Published:First published in Frontiers in Chemistry 9: 742565
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
304037EPSRC International Centre-to-Centre CroninLeroy CroninEngineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)EP/S030603/1Chemistry
305200DTP 2018-19 University of GlasgowMary Beth KneafseyEngineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)EP/R513222/1MVLS - Graduate School
312561EPSRC DTP 2020/21Christopher PearceEngineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)EP/T517896/1Research and Innovation Services