Electrochemical nitrogen fixation and utilization: theories, advanced catalyst materials and system design
Nitrogen is a fundamental constituent for all living creatures on the Earth and modern industrial society. The current nitrogen industry is largely powered by fossil fuels with huge energy consumption and carbon dioxide emission, and nitrogen pollution in surface water bodies induced by the indiscriminate discharge of industrial and domestic wastewater has become a worldwide environmental concern. Electrochemical techniques for nitrogen fixation and transformation under mild conditions are promising approaches to meet the challenge of efficiently managing and balancing the nitrogen cycle, where the rational design of advanced electrocatalysts from both structural and compositional aspects down to the nanoscale plays the most essential role. Herein, important nitrogen species including dinitrogen (N2), ammonia (NH3) and hydrazine (N2H4), their transformation processes between each other including the nitrogen reduction reaction (NRR), ammonia oxidation reaction (AOR) and hydrazine oxidation reaction (HzOR), and research progress on the development of related electrocatalysts are systematically summarized, aiming at establishing a general picture of the whole nitrogen cycle instead of a certain single reaction. Strategies combining theoretical computations and experimental optimizations are proposed to improve the catalytic performance including activity, efficiency, selectivity and stability, finally contributing to a self-sufficient and carbon-free “green” nitrogen economy.