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From wastewater to fertilizer

July 27, 2021  by  Bree Rody

A new global team consisting of scientists and researchers from Calgary, Toronto, Houston and Tennessee have recently developed a new process to convert the nitrates (NO3) from industrial wastewater to ammonia, assisting in the production of fertilizer.

This could be a game changer for producers looking to be more green, since for years the only way to develop ammonia (the standard Haber-Bosch procedure, which converts nitrogen gas to ammonia), which is used in commercial fertilizer, was not environmentally friendly.

The conversion was successfully completed by Dr. Haotian Wang, an assistant professor at Rice University, and colleagues successfully converted nitrate to ammonia by adding electricity to a single atom catalyst. Honing in on a single atomic site was key to ensuring the desired reaction.

“If we have multiple active sites, we could end up with nitrogen gas instead,” said Wang in a statement. Single atom catalysts are created by reducing or shrinking a nanoparticle down to a single atom. Nanoparticles are made up of hundreds or thousands of individual atoms.


Through their testing, the team found that iron most effectively assisted in the conversion. Instrumental in the work was the Canadian Light Source (CLS) SXRMB beam line at the University of Saskatchewan.

The next steps for the team include boosting the catalyst’s efficiency and stability which will lead to higher scale and use in real-world operations.


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