Electrocatalytic reduction of nitrate – a step towards a sustainable nitrogen cycle
Nitrate enrichment, which is mainly caused by the over-utilization of fertilisers and industrial sewage discharge, is a major global engineering challenge because of its negative influence on the environment and human health. To solve this serious problem, many technologies, such as the activated sludge method, reverse osmosis, ion exchange, adsorption, and electrodialysis, have been developed to reduce the nitrate levels in water bodies. However, the applications of these traditional techniques are limited by several drawbacks, such as a long sludge retention time, slow kinetics, and undesirable by-products. From an environmental perspective, the most promising nitrate reduction technology is enabled to convert nitrate into benign N2, and features low cost, high efficiency, and environmental friendliness. Recently, electrocatalytic nitrate reduction has been proven by satisfactory research achievements to be one of the most promising methods among these technologies. This review provides a comprehensive account of nitrate reduction using electrocatalysis methods. The fundamentals of electrocatalytic nitrate reduction, including the reaction mechanisms, reactor design principles, product detection methods, and performance evaluation methods, have been systematically summarised. A detailed introduction to electrocatalytic nitrate reduction on transition metals, especially noble metals and alloys, Cu-based electrocatalysts, and Fe-based electrocatalysts is provided, as they are essential for the accurate reporting of experimental results. The current challenges and potential opportunities in this field, including the innovation of material design systems, value-added product yields, and challenges for products beyond N2 and large-scale sewage treatment, are highlighted.