Breaking ammonia: A new catalyst to generate hydrogen from ammonia at low temperatures

The current global climate emergency and our rapidly receding energy resources have people looking out for cleaner alternatives like hydrogen fuel. When burnt in the presence of oxygen, hydrogen gas generates huge amounts of energy but none of the harmful greenhouse gases, unlike fossil fuels. Unfortunately, most of the hydrogen fuel produced today comes from natural gas or fossil fuels, which ultimately increases its carbon footprint.

Ammonia (NH3), a carbon-neutral hydrogen compound has recently garnered a lot of attention owing to its high energy density and high hydrogen storage capacity. It can be decomposed to release nitrogen and hydrogen gases. Ammonia can be easily liquified, stored, and transported, and converted into hydrogen fuel when required. However, the production of hydrogen from ammonia is a slow reaction with very high energy demands. To speed up production, metal catalysts are often used, which help reduce the overall energy consumption during hydrogen production as well.

Recent studies have found that Nickel (Ni) is a promising catalyst for splitting ammonia. Ammonia gets adsorbed on the surface of Ni catalysts, following which the bonds between nitrogen and hydrogen in ammonia are broken and they are released as individual gases. However, obtaining a good conversion of ammonia using a Ni catalyst often involves very high operating temperatures.

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