Reversible transition of an amorphous Cu-Al oxyfluoride into a highly active electrocatalyst for nitrate reduction to ammonia

21 September 2022, Version 1


The electrochemical conversion of nitrate (NO3-) to ammonia (NH3) is an emerging alternative to valorize this aqueous pollutant to an essential chemical feedstock and potential fuel. Underpinning the maturation of the field and eventual viability of this technology is the discovery of efficient electrocatalysts, coupled with fundamental insights into the reaction mechanism. Until now, fluorinated materials have not yet been explored in this direction. In this work, we present the first fluorinated catalyst used for electrochemical NO3- reduction to NH3. A new copper-based oxyfluoride, Cu3Al2OF10, prepared through a facile coprecipitation and annealing of the corresponding hydrated fluoride r-Cu3Al2F12(H2O)12, was found to be exceptionally active, attaining a NH3 Faradaic Efficiency (FE) of up to 57% for the 8-electron NO3- to NH3 pathway (-0.4 VRHE) with a mass activity of up to 1220 A.g-1 at -0.6 VRHE, the highest yet recorded. Additionally, Cu3Al2OF10 continually produced NH3 for 2.5 days while maintaining a reasonable FE (55%). Finally, electroanalytical and operando spectroscopic investigations revealed a reversible transition to a phase entailing Cu nanoparticles embedded within the amorphous oxyfluoride matrix that was predominantly responsible for the catalyst’s activity. Overall, this work stands to open avenues for transition metal fluoride materials within the field nitrogen-based electrocatalysis. 


Nitrate reduction
Ammonia production
Operando Spectroscopy


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