What is it about?

Replacing traditional thermochemical methods to urea (a fertilizer) production with efficient, green electrochemical technologies can contribute to alleviate global energy and environmental problems. To this end, we have developed a novel amorphous electrocatalyst capable of efficient electrochemical urea synthesis using N2 and CO2 as feedstocks. The catalytic reaction pathway is finely tuned by adjusting the chemisorption configuration of the reactants and intermediates on the catalyst. A novel catalytic reaction mechanism is proposed based on DFT calculations, revealing that symmetry matching of the reactants’ molecular orbitals can bring about efficient C-N coupling, thus leading to highly efficient synthesis of urea.

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Why is it important?

We believe our findings provide valuable guidelines for the future development of catalysts with main group metals for multielectron reactions that are ubiquitous across energy and environmental remediation applications. The proposed strategy is transformative not only in terms of energy saving and emission reduction, but it also serves as an appealing avenue to recycle CO2 into higher value chemical feedstocks.


This work is part of our efforts to design efficient amorphous electrocatalysts and modulate catalytic reaction pathways thereof. Beyond the introduction of a new strategy for efficient electrocatalytic urea synthesis by effective modulation of main-group metal catalysts, I hope this article will stimulate new ideas and bring inspiration for the development and design of novel amorphous electrocatalysts for renewable energy and CO2 recycling.

Lin Guo

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This page is a summary of: Efficient C–N coupling in the direct synthesis of urea from CO 2 and N 2 by amorphous Sb x Bi 1-x O ..., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September 2023, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2306841120.
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