Energy efficient nitrogen reduction to ammonia at low overpotential in aqueous electrolyte under ambient conditions

Dabin Wang, Luis Miguel Azofra, Moussab Harb, Luigi Cavallo, Xinyi Zhang, Bryan Harry Rahmat Suryanto, Douglas Robert MacFarlane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

138 Scopus citations


The electrochemical nitrogen reduction reaction (NRR) at ambient conditions is a promising alternative to the traditional energy-intensive Haber-Bosch process to produce ammonia. The challenge is to achieve a sufficient energy efficiency, yield rate and selectivity to make the process practical. Herein, we demonstrate that Ruthenium nanoparticles (Ru NPs) enable NRR in 0.01 M HCl aqueous solution at very high energy efficiency, i.e., very low overpotentials. Remarkably, the NRR occurs at potential close to or even above H+/H2 reversible potential, significantly enhancing the NRR selectivity versus the production of H2. NH3 yield rates as high as ~5.5 mg h-1 m-2 at 20°C and 21.4 mg h-1 m-2 at 60°C were achieved at E = -100 mV versus the relative hydrogen electrode (RHE) while a highest Faradaic efficiency of ~5.4% is achievable at E = +10 mV vs. RHE. This work demonstrates the potential use of Ru NPs as an efficient catalyst for NRR at ambient conditions. This ability to catalyse NRR at potentials near or above RHE is imperative in improving the NRR selectivity towards a practical process as well as rendering the H2 viable as by-product. DFT calculations of the mechanism suggest that the efficient NRR process occurring on these predominantly Ru(001) surfaces is catalysed by a dissociative mechanism.
Original languageEnglish (US)
StatePublished - Aug 9 2018

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2019-02-13
Acknowledgements: The authors thank Monash Centre for Electron Microscopy (MCEM) for the provision of access to their instruments. L.M.A., M.H. and L.C. acknowledge King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) for support. Gratitude is also due to the KAUST Supercomputing Laboratory using the supercomputer Shaheen II for providing the computational resources. This study was supported by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Grant (DP170102267). D.R.M. is grateful to the ARC for his Australian Laureate Fellowship.


  • ambient conditions
  • ammonia synthesis
  • electrochemistry
  • nitrogen fixation
  • nitrogen reduction reaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • General Materials Science
  • General Energy


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