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Scientists Produce Ammonia at Low Pressure


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Scientists at Cornell University have succeeded in converting nitrogen into ammonia using a long-predicted process that has challenged scientists for decades. The new process is not likely, according to the research team, to displace the 90-year old Haber-Bosch process that is currently used to produce ammonia. The Haber-Bosch process is dependent upon high temperatures and pressures, while the new process uses a zirconium metal complex to add hydrogen atoms to the nitrogen molecule and convert it to ammonia, without the need for high temperatures or high pressure.

Paul Chirik, Cornell assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology and his two colleagues reported on the advance in a recent issue of the journal Nature (Vol. 427, Feb. 5, 2004). Chirik emphasizes that his group has succeeded only in producing ammonia in a laboratory setting, molecule by molecule, and is not making claims for an industrial process.

Chirik emphasized that "the chance that anyone will ever replace the Haber-Bosch process is very small." However, he believes his group's discovery could be useful in making "value-added nitrogen chemicals, such as hydrazines for rocket fuels or fine chemicals for drug synthesis or dyes.”

The title of the Nature article is "Hydrogenation and cleavage of dinitrogen to ammonia with a zirconium complex." The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

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