“Agricultural fertilizer runoff is contaminating ground and surface water, which causes ecological effects such as algae blooms as well as significant adverse effects for humans, including cancer, hypertension, and developmental issues in babies,” said Wong, professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in Rice’s Brown School of Engineering. “I’ve been very curious about nitrogen chemistry, especially if I can design materials that clean water of nitrogen compounds like nitrites and nitrates.”
The study, published in the journal ACS Catalysis, challenges the idea that only palladium-based catalysts are effective for nitrite reduction and expands the frontiers of the reduction process.
The creation of ammonia from nitrite waste is especially exciting to Wong’s team. Ammonia-based fertilizers are critical for global food supplies, and ammonia has also been discussed as a carbon-free liquid fuel that could address climate change. But ammonia producers still rely heavily on the energy-intensive Haber-Bosch process, and making ammonia from nitrite waste could provide a green alternative, Wong said.
Over the past two decades, removing water contaminants through catalysis has garnered attention as a promising technology. Because palladium is regarded as the most effective metal for nitrate and nitrite elimination, few studies have thoroughly explored the performance of other metal catalysts.