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Biohybrid Nanoparticles for Ammonia Production

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

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Technology Marketing Summary

The global demand for ammonia (NH3) is projected to reach 160 million tons in 2020, according to the Research and Markets report, Ammonia Global Market to 2020. In addition, the production of NH3, which makes up the single largest input of fixed nitrogen (N) into the global biogeochemical cycle, accounts for approximately 1% to 2% of the world’s energy consumption. The process of producing NH3 is a kinetically complex and energetically challenging multistep reaction, where, in the Haber Bosch process, NH3 is produced via a dissociative reaction involving co-activation of H2 and N2 over a Fe-based catalyst.  However, this process ultimately yields significant amounts of CO2 and uses fossil fuels to produce the H2 used in the reaction through steam reforming and to achieve the high temperatures and pressures necessary to drive the reaction. Therefore, there is a need for a more energy-efficient and sustainable method of producing NH3.


Scientists at NREL have developed an energy-efficient and sustainable method of producing NH3 that involves the use of novel biohybrid naoparticle comprised of cadmium sulfide (CdS) nanocrystals and a nitrogenase molybedenum-iron (MoFe) enzyme.  These biohybride complexes photocatalytically drive the enzymatic reduction of N2 to NH3. The resulting NH3 and H can then be separated to isolate NH3. Furthermore, this novel process does not emit CO2, and can utilize excess energy generated from the light-harvesting process for modular production.

  • No ATP requirement
  • Light-driven reaction
  • No CO2 emissions
  • Can utilize excess renewable energy for modular production
Applications and Industries
  • Ammonia production
  • Fuel Cells
  • Fertilizer
More Information

For further information, please read the 2016 Science article, Light-driven dinitrogen reduction catalyzed by a CdS:nitrogenase MoFe protein biohybrid.

Patents and Patent Applications
ID Number
Title and Abstract
Primary Lab
Application 20180142264
Disclosed herein are biohybrid protein complexes capable of using light energy to photocatalyze the reduction of N.sub.2 into NH.sub.3. Also provided are methods of using biohybrid protein complexes to enzymatically reduce N.sub.2 to NH.sub.3 using light rather than chemical energy as the driving force. These methods may also include the production and isolation of ammonia, hydrogen or both.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory 11/20/2017
Technology Status
Technology IDDevelopment StageAvailabilityPublishedLast Updated
ROI 15-86PrototypeAvailable02/28/201702/28/2017

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To: Eric Payne<>