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Iron nanocatalysts boost ammonia production

By Scott Jenkins |

Nanoscale iron catalysts, designed for industrial chemical applications, have been validated in commercial ammonia-production reactors in China. According to manufacturer QuantumSphere, Inc. (QSI; Santa Ana, Calif.; www.qsinano.com), incorporation of the nanocatalysts resulted in a 10–15% increase in ammonia production rate compared to standard ammonia catalysts. Iron nanocatalysts produced from QSI’s manufacturing process (diagram) are highly uniform in size and have chemically active surfaces that allow reactions to occur at lower temperatures and pressures and at a higher rate. To manufacture the nanocatalysts, QSI developed an automated gas-phase condensation process (Chem. Eng., September 2004, p. 15) in which electric heating elements are used to melt and then vaporize iron in a vacuum chamber. A laminar flow of low-temperature helium condenses the metal vapor into nanoscale droplets, which then solidify into uniform spherical nanocatalysts. “By carefully controlling the vacuum level, metal flux, quench-gas flow and other process parameters, we are able to produce nanocatalysts with tailored particle sizes, tight size distributions and high surface energies,” explains Kevin Maloney, QSI’s CEO. In a secondary operation,…
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