Electrochemical nitrogen reduction: an intriguing but challenging quest

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Shahid, Usman
Chen, Yifu
Gu, Shuang
Li, Wenzhen
Shao, Minhua

Usman Bin Shahid, Yifu Chen, Shuang Gu, Whenzhen Li, Minhua Shao, Electrochemical nitrogen reduction: an intriguing but challenging quest, Trends in Chemistry, Volume 4, Issue 2, 2022, Pages 142-156, ISSN 2589-5974, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trechm.2021.11.007. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2589597421002616)


Ammonia plays an indispensable role in global agroeconomics, chemical industries, energy carriers, and other diverse applications. To meet the demand for ammonia in these roles, the artificial synthesis of ammonia has traditionally relied on the well-established Haber–Bosch process that is commercially viable but energy intensive. Recently, the drive for sustainable alternatives has fueled interest in the development of electrochemical nitrogen reduction (eNRR) as a pathway for carbon-free ammonia synthesis. Nevertheless, research in the eNRR field remains elusive, partly because of the ominous presence of reactive nitrogen-containing species (Nr) and the lack of a thorough understanding of eNRR mechanistics. Herein, we provide an overview of efforts highlighting measures to avoid false positives and advancing mechanistic understanding of the eNRR process.

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Highlights The electrochemical nitrogen reduction (eNRR) offers a flexible and sustainable alternative to the well-established Haber–Bosch process to synthesize NH3 in a distributed and on-demand manner. Recent progress in the exploration of feasible eNRR systems has been impeded by inadequate understanding of eNRR mechanisms and plagued by interference from the unnoticed presence of reactive N-containing species. As a crucial requirement for the design of control experiments in eNRR research, the quantitative 15N2 experiment provides the direct and most reliable evidence of the eNRR process. Advanced in situ characterization techniques can deepen mechanistic understandings of the eNRR process, but attention should be devoted to the possible intervention of reactive nitrogen-containing species.