Ammonia synthesis by photocatalytic hydrogenation of a N2-derived molybdenum nitride

Sangmin Kim, Yoonsu Park, Junho Kim, Tyler P. Pabst, Paul J. Chirik

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17 Scopus citations


Although metal complexes are known to split dinitrogen at ambient temperature and pressure, the synthesis of ammonia from these compounds with H2 as the terminal reductant is rarely achieved. Here we report a photocatalytic ammonia synthesis from a N2-derived terminal molybdenum nitride by using H2 as the terminal reductant. An iridium hydride photocatalyst mediates the reaction on irradiation with blue light. A molybdenum pentahydride was identified as the principal metal product to arise after ammonia release. Conversion of the molybdenum pentahydride back to the terminal molybdenum nitride was accomplished in three steps and completed a synthetic cycle for NH3 formation from N2 and H2. Mechanistic investigations support a pathway that involves photoexcitation of the iridium hydride and a subsequent energy transfer rather than electron transfer. Deuterium labelling confirmed H2 as the source of the N–H bonds. This photodriven, proton-coupled electron transfer allows the use of H2 as the terminal reductant for the catalytic formation of NH3 from N2 using metal catalysts. [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)297-303
Number of pages7
JournalNature Synthesis
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Chemistry (miscellaneous)
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Materials Chemistry


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