A whip of ruthenium atoms on a network of copper nanowires could be a step ahead toward a revolution in the ammonia industry to help the environment as well. A research collaboration between researchers at George R. Brown School of Engineering, Rice University, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Arizona State University has led to the development of a high-performance catalyst.
The property of catalyst is to draw ammonia and solid ammonia with 100% efficiency from low levels of nitrates that are widespread in industrial wastewater and contaminated groundwater.
The joint study shows how the process converts nitrate concentration of 2,000 parts for each million into ammonia, followed by an efficient gas eliminating method to collect ammonia. The remaining nitrogen content following the treatment can be further reduced to drinkable levels as per the guidelines of World Health Organization.
This led to fulfilling a complete water denitrification process. The further treatment of water for other contaminants can potentially convert industrial wastewater again into drinking water.
The study reveals a promising substitute toward efficient processes for an industry that currently depends on an energy-intensive process to generate above 170 million tons of ammonia each year.
Earlier from previous studies, researchers know that ruthenium atoms are excellent at catalyzing nitrate-rich wastewater. The twist was combining it with copper that puts an end to hydrogen evolution reaction, a way to generate hydrogen from water which in this case is an unwanted side effect.
Meanwhile, it is known that ruthenium is a good metal candidate for nitrate reduction, but it is also known to have a big problem to have a competing reaction of hydrogen evolution. The application of current would let a large of electrons to attach to hydrogen, and not to the product that is desired.