A team of researchers from Japan's Tokyo Tech have demonstrated perovskites' potential in the production of ammonia directly from hydrogen and nitrogen. This has the potential to open up a new approach to the manufacture of this industrially and agrochemically important gas. Ammonia is used widely an industrial reagent and in the formation of agricultural fertilizers, there are also examples of it being used as a "clean" energy carrier for hydrogen gas for fuel cells.
Masaaki Kitano and his team at Tokyo Tech point out that the main barrier to a facile synthesis of ammonia from hydrogen and nitrogen gas is the surmounting the high energy barrier needed to split diatomic nitrogen. Nitrogen-fixing plants, of course, can handle this process with a range of enzymes evolved over millions of years and metals catalysts coupled with high temperatures and pressures are the mainstays of the industrial process. There have been efforts to make perovskites in which some of their oxygen atoms have been replaced with hydrogen and nitrogen ions to act as ammonia forming materials, but these too only work at a high temperature of more than 800 degrees Celsius and the reaction takes weeks to proceed to completion. These two factors had until now meant perovskites were not looking too promising as a way to create a new ammonia process.