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Chementator Briefs

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Nitrogen fixation A team from South China University of Technology (Guangzhou, China; https//en.scut.edu.cn), led by professor Haihui Wang, has discovered that black phosphorus — phosphorus in its lowest reactivity, nontoxic form — is an excellent catalyst for the electro-reduction of nitrogen to ammonia. The team found that the zigzag arrangement in the phosphorus layers, in contrast to other layered or flat materials, provides ideal sites for nitrogen adsorption and the electronic structure at the edges was best suited for binding, activating and reducing nitrogen by a low-energy pathway. The team included the catalyst nanosheets in a carbon-fiber electrode for electrolysis. To provide a nitrogen supply, a hydrochloride electrolyte solution was saturated with nitrogen. On application of a voltage, the electrode readily and selectively produced ammonia from nitrogen. Wang says the layered black phosphorus even outperformed most nonmetallic and metal-based catalysts lately reported. A drawback of black phosphorus is that its performance declines in the long term due to oxidation, so it will be necessary to find ways of preventing degradation in the electrolyte, says the team.
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