“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 that had any practical implications.”
Berry wanted to test how ammonia would react with diruthenium, a pair of ruthenium atoms bonded together with other molecules. He thought if he applied an electrical current, the ammonia would oxidize, releasing nitrogen.
Christian Wallen, who was working in the lab as a postdoctoral researcher, figured out there was no need to add energy.
“If you just add ammonia to this complex, it spits out nitrogen on its own,” Berry said.
Mike Trenerry, one of Berry’s current graduate students and co-author of the paper, figured out how to pull the electrons off and repeat the reaction by exposing the catalyst to oxygen.
“What this means for us is the research has cleared an important energetic hurdle,” Trenerry said. “We’ve managed to keep the thermodynamics on our side.”
GOP bills making their way through the Legislature could help the state build out its electric vehicle charging network and create a new framework for industry regulation.
The idea of using ammonia as fuel is not new.
“Germans were forced to do it during World War II,” Berry said. “You put ammonia into internal combustion engines and sure enough they run.”