TECHNOLOGY: Unique Catalyst Thwarts NOx Pollution

One does not need an advanced degree in science to know that fossil fuels are a major contributor to air pollution and several health concerns. One pollutant resulting from the burning of fossil fuels is nitrogen oxide (NOx), which can cause severe respiratory diseases and an imbalance in the Earth’s nitrogen cycle. Therefore, reducing NOx accumulation may be something to think about.

One approach to the problem, scientists are researching methods of converting NOx into either a harmless gas or useful nitrogen products. A highly desirable strategy is the reduction of NOx to hydroxylamine (NH2OH), which is viable for use as a renewable source of energy.

Scientists see the critical step that determines the formation of hydroxylamine being the catalytic electrochemical reduction of nitric oxide (NO), which can yield hydroxylamine or nitrous oxide (N2O). This depends on the electrolyte pH and electrode potential.

A new iron catalyst helps preferentially reduce nitric oxide to hydroxylamine, opening doors to pollution control and clean energy

Lab studies find, for hydroxylamine formation to dominate over N2O formation, highly acidic electrolytes with a pH less than 0 are necessary. But a harshly acidic environment rapidly degrades the catalyst and limits the reaction. Professor Chang Hyuck Choi from the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST) in Korea responds, “The development of a new catalyst with high activity, selectivity, and stability is the next challenge.”

Prof. Choi and his colleagues formulated a unique iron-nitrogen-doped carbon (Fe-N-C) catalyst that exhibits high selectivity for the NH2OH pathway as well as resistance to acidic conditions. The researchers’ analysis of the catalyst’s performance shows it to achieve 71% efficiency when producing NH2OH in a prototypical NO-H2 fuel cell, thereby establishing its practical utility. Importantly, they found that the catalyst exhibits long-term stability, showing no signs of deactivation after operating for 50+ hours.

Professor Choi explains, “The new catalyst will not only help reduce the amount of NOx pollutants in our atmosphere but also lead us to a renewable energy future.” For deeper details and more technical details, read the “Selective electrochemical reduction of nitric oxide to hydroxylamine by atomically dispersed iron catalyst” paper.

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