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A highly active catalyst for making NH3

By Tetsuo Satoh |

The research groups of Hideo Hosono and Michikazu Hara at the Materials and Structures Laboratory, Tokyo Institute of Technology (TiTech; Yokohama, Japan; www.msl.titech.ac.jp) have developed a high-performance catalyst for the synthesis of ammonia. In the laboratory, the catalyst is found to be an order of magnitude more efficient than commercial ruthenium-based catalysts because it cuts the energy barrier for the reaction of H2 and N2 in half. The researchers believe their achievement will contribute to a more environmentally friendly route to NH3, with milder reaction conditions compared to the conventional Haber-Bosch process, which requires high temperatures and pressures, and consumes more than 1% of the world’s power. The researchers are already collaborating with a Japanese company, and aim to commercialize the technology in 5–10 yr. The catalyst is made by attaching ruthenium atoms to nano-sized cages of a calcium aluminate electride, which confines electrons within the cage. The electride — 12CaO•7Al2O3 (hereafter C12A7; diagram) — is a component found in cement. Hosono’s group developed the C12A7 electride system and Hara’s group applied the electride as a catalyst for NH3 synthesis.…
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