Nano-Micro Letters

Transition Metal Aluminum Boride as a New Candidate for Ambient-Condition Electrochemical Ammonia Synthesis

Yang Fu1, Peter Richardson2, Kangkang Li3, Hai Yu3, Bing Yu4, Scott Donne1, Erich Kisi2, Tianyi Ma1,*

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Nano-Micro Lett. (2020) 12: 65

First Online: 28 February 2020 (Article)


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Achieving more meaningful N2 conversion by reducing the energy input and carbon footprint is now being investigated through a method of N2 fixation instead of the Haber–Bosch process. Unfortunately, the electrochemical N2 reduction reaction (NRR) method as a rising approach currently still shows low selectivity (Faradaic efficiency < 10%) and high-energy consumption [applied potential at least − 0.2 V versus the reversible hydrogen electrode (RHE)]. Here, the role of molybdenum aluminum boride single crystals, belonging to a family of ternary transition metal aluminum borides known as MAB phases, is reported for the electrochemical NRR for the first time, at a low applied potential (− 0.05 V versus RHE) under ambient conditions and in alkaline media. Due to the unique nano-laminated crystal structure of the MAB phase, these inexpensive materials have been found to exhibit excellent electrocatalytic performances (NH3 yield: 9.2 µg h−1 cm−2 mgcat.−1, Faradaic efficiency: 30.1%) at the low overpotential, and to display a high chemical stability and sustained catalytic performance. In conjunction, further mechanism studies indicate B and Al as main-group metals show a highly selective affinity to N2 due to the strong interaction between the B 2p/Al 3p band and the N 2p orbitals, while Mo exhibits specific catalytic activity toward the subsequent reduction reaction. Overall, the MAB-phase catalyst under the synergy of the elements within ternary compound can suppress the hydrogen evolution reaction and achieve enhanced NRR performance. The significance of this work is to provide a promising candidate in the future synthesis of ammonia.



MAB phase; N2 reduction reaction; Electrocatalysis; Nanostructure

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