Annual Report FY 2004 - Research at Cornell

04. Converting Nitrogen into Ammonia

Paul Chirik, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, and his research team converted nitrogen into ammonia using a process that answers a basic chemical question—how to put an inert and unreactive nitrogen molecule into a useful form. The researchers used a zirconium metal complex to add hydrogen atoms to the nitrogen molecule and convert it to ammonia without the high temperatures or high pressure that the current industrial process, the Haber-Bosch process, needs. Although the researchers do not expect their discovery to replace the Haber-Bosch process, it could be useful in making value-added nitrogen chemicals, such as hydrazines for rocket fuels or fine chemicals for drug synthesis or dyes. Nitrogen constitutes 78 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere and is converted to ammonia-based fertilizer that sustains agriculture for about 40 percent of the world’s population.

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