Dr Mark Symes

Project Title: Electrocatalytic ammonia production using phthalocyanine-based catalysts

Ammonia is critical for our food supply. Indeed, it is estimated that between a third and half of the world’s population would starve to death if ammonia-based fertilisers were not available. However, the current method for ammonia production (the Haber Bosch process) is inefficient and is a major contributor to carbon dioxide emissions. It is not, therefore, environmentally sustainable. Furthermore, the Haber Bosch process requires ultra-pure nitrogen and hydrogen as feedstocks and large, expensive reactors that run at high temperatures and pressures.

In this research project, we propose to develop a new approach to ammonia production that would make ammonia at room temperature and pressure directly from nitrogen and water. The only other requirement is a source of electricity. Hence, if the electricity were obtained from a renewable source, we would have a completely sustainable route to ammonia. Systems that are able to produce ammonia under such benign conditions are extremely rare, but our preliminary results suggest that large strides could be made in this area for very modest investment.

This project will demonstrate the feasibility of the approach we suggest, and will give us a platform from which to develop small, cheap devices that can make ammonia directly from air and water. This could have profound consequences for how ammonia is produced and distributed, especially in the developing world, where infrastructure is often lacking but the need for fertilisers is often the most pressing.

Awarded: Research Incentive Grant

Field: Environmental Science

University: University of Glasgow

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