Critical Assessment of the Electrocatalytic Activity of Vanadium and Niobium Nitrides toward Dinitrogen Reduction to Ammonia

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Previous theoretical work has predicted vanadium and niobium nitrides to be catalytically active toward the electrochemical reduction of dinitrogen to ammonia and inactive for the hydrogen evolution reaction. The present experimental study investigates the electrocatalytic activity of vanadium(III) nitride, niobium(III) nitride, and Nb 4 N 5 for the nitrogen reduction reaction in aqueous electrolyte solutions of different pH under ambient conditions using a robust testing protocol and thoroughly controlled experimental conditions to exclude any contamination with adventitious sources of ammonia and nitrogen oxides. VN and Nb 4 N 5 (supported on carbon cloth) were synthesized by annealing of hydrothermally produced hydroxide precursors in an NH 3 atmosphere at 600-1100 °C; NbN was obtained by a solid-state reaction between niobium(V) chloride and urea at 1000 °C. Comprehensive testing of the materials under a wide range of conditions unambiguously demonstrates their inability to catalyze the electrosynthesis of ammonia from dinitrogen, as well as the propensity of VN (synthesized at 600 °C) and Nb 4 N 5 to release lattice nitride in a noncatalytic process, which leads to the formation of ammonia under reductive conditions. Thus, polycrystalline nitrides of vanadium and niobium are concluded to be catalytically inactive toward the ammonia electrosynthesis from N 2 dissolved in water. The present work additionally emphasizes the compulsory requirement for the implementation of reliable testing and analysis procedures for the assessment of the catalytic properties of materials for the nitrogen reduction reaction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6839−6850
Number of pages12
JournalACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Aqueous
  • Dissolved nitrogen
  • Mars-van Krevelen mechanism
  • Nitrogen reduction reaction
  • pH effect

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