Despite the longstanding reliability of the process, scientists have had little understanding of how it actually works. But now a team of chemists, led by Patrick Holland of the University of Rochester, has new insight into how the ammonia is formed. Their findings are published in the latest issue of Science.
Holland calls nitrogen molecules "challenging." While they're abundant in the air around us, which makes them desirable for research and manufacturing, their strong triple bonds are difficult to break, making them highly unreactive. For the last century, the Haber-Bosch process has made use of an iron catalyst at extremely high pressures and high temperatures to break those bonds and produce ammonia, one drop at a time. The question of how this works, though, has not been answered to this day.
"The Haber-Bosch process is efficient, but it is hard to understand because the reaction occurs only on a solid catalyst, which is difficult to study directly," said Holland. "That's why we attempted to break the nitrogen using soluble forms of iron."
Holland and his team, which included Meghan Rodriguez and William Brennessel at the University of Rochester and Eckhard Bill of the Max Planck Institute for Bioinorganic Chemistry in Germany, succeeded in mimicking the process in solution. They discovered that an iron complex combined with potassium was capable of breaking the strong bonds between the nitrogen (N) atoms and forming a complex with an Fe3N2 core, which indicates that three iron (Fe) atoms work together in order to break the N-N bonds. The new complex then reacts with hydrogen (H2) and acid to form ammonia (NH3) -- something that had never been done by iron in solution before.
Despite the breakthrough, the Haber-Bosch process is not likely to be replaced anytime soon. While there are risks in producing ammonia at extremely high temperatures and pressures, Holland points out that the catalyst used in Haber-Bosch is considerably less expensive than what was used by his team. But Holland says it is possible that his team's research could eventually help in coming up with a better catalyst for the Haber-Bosch process -- one that would allow ammonia to be produced at lower temperatures and pressures.
At the same time, the findings could have a benefit far removed from the world of ammonia and fertilizer. When the iron-potassium complex breaks apart the nitrogen molecules, negatively charged nitrogen ions -- called nitrides -- are formed. Holland says the nitrides formed in solution could be useful in making pharmaceuticals and other products.
Peter Iglinski | EurekAlert!
AI-driven single blood cell classification: New method to support physicians in leukemia diagnostics
13.11.2019 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt
Small RNAs link immune system and brain cells
13.11.2019 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are valuable for a wide variety of applications. Made of graphene sheets rolled into tubes 10,000 times smaller than a human hair, CNTs have an exceptional strength-to-mass ratio and excellent thermal and electrical properties. These features make them ideal for a range of applications, including supercapacitors, interconnects, adhesives, particle trapping and structural color.
New research reveals even more potential for CNTs: as a coating, they can both repel and hold water in place, a useful property for applications like printing,...
If you've ever tried to put several really strong, small cube magnets right next to each other on a magnetic board, you'll know that you just can't do it. What happens is that the magnets always arrange themselves in a column sticking out vertically from the magnetic board. Moreover, it's almost impossible to join several rows of these magnets together to form a flat surface. That's because magnets are dipolar. Equal poles repel each other, with the north pole of one magnet always attaching itself to the south pole of another and vice versa. This explains why they form a column with all the magnets aligned the same way.
Now, scientists at ETH Zurich have managed to create magnetic building blocks in the shape of cubes that - for the first time ever - can be joined together to...
Quantum-based communication and computation technologies promise unprecedented applications, such as unconditionally secure communications, ultra-precise...
In two experiments performed at the free-electron laser FLASH in Hamburg a cooperation led by physicists from the Heidelberg Max Planck Institute for Nuclear physics (MPIK) demonstrated strongly-driven nonlinear interaction of ultrashort extreme-ultraviolet (XUV) laser pulses with atoms and ions. The powerful excitation of an electron pair in helium was found to compete with the ultrafast decay, which temporarily may even lead to population inversion. Resonant transitions in doubly charged neon ions were shifted in energy, and observed by XUV-XUV pump-probe transient absorption spectroscopy.
An international team led by physicists from the MPIK reports on new results for efficient two-electron excitations in helium driven by strong and ultrashort...
An international research group has observed new quantum properties on an artificial giant atom and has now published its results in the high-ranking journal Nature Physics. The quantum system under investigation apparently has a memory - a new finding that could be used to build a quantum computer.
The research group, consisting of German, Swedish and Indian scientists, has investigated an artificial quantum system and found new properties.
05.11.2019 | Event News
30.10.2019 | Event News
02.10.2019 | Event News
13.11.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
13.11.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
13.11.2019 | Materials Sciences