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Clean energy from ammonia: UW discovery a step toward carbon-free economy

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Researchers in Prof. John Berry’s chemistry lab found that ammonia combined with a catalyst containing ruthenium — a transition metal similar to platinum — spontaneously produces nitrogen, releasing electrons that can be siphoned off. UW-Madison scientists have discovered a new way to capture energy from an everyday product that could be a key step to a carbon-free economy.

Researchers in professor John Berry’s chemistry lab found that ammonia combined with a catalyst containing the metal ruthenium spontaneously produces nitrogen, releasing electrons that can be siphoned off.

Replicated at scale, the reaction could be used to generate electricity without releasing pollutants or heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide, providing a viable alternative to fossil fuels and helping achieve a carbon-neutral economy, which scientists warn is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change. Boaz, Wisconsin, population 156, to host state’s first community-scale microgrid The findings were publish ed last month in the journal Nature Chemistry and have received a provisional patent from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

“It’s pretty unheard of,” Berry said of the discovery, which he notes is a “pretty big deal.”

“We weren’t looking for this at all,” he said. “I’ve been making exotic molecules all my life. I never thought I’d do something […]

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