Title: Self-Activated Ni Cathode for Electrocatalytic Nitrate Reduction to Ammonia: From Fundamentals to Scale-Up for Treatment of Industrial Wastewater
Abstract: Electrocatalytic reduction has recently received increasing attention as a method of converting waste nitrate into value-added ammonia, but most studies have focused on complex strategies of catalyst preparation and little has been done in the way of large-scale demonstrations. Herein, we report that in situ activation of a pristine Ni electrode, either on a lab scale or a pilot scale, is effective in facilitating nitrate reduction to ammonia, exhibiting extraordinarily high activity, selectivity, and stability. The self-activated Ni cathode has a robust capacity to reduce nitrate over a wide range of concentrations and achieves great conversion yield, NH4+–N selectivity, and Faradaic efficiency, respectively, 95.3, 95.5, and 64.4% at 200 mg L–1 NO3––N and 97.8, 97.1, and 90.4% at 2000 mg L–1 NO3––N, for example. Fundamental research indicates that Ni(OH)2 nanoparticles are formed on the Ni electrode surface upon self-activation, which play crucial roles in governing nitrate reduction reaction (NO3RR) through the atomic H*-mediated pathway and accordingly suppressing hydrogen evolution reaction. More importantly, the self-activated Ni(OH)2@Ni cathode can be easily scaled up to allow large volumes of real industrial wastewater to be processed, successfully transferring nitrate into ammonia with high yields and Faradaic efficiency. This study demonstrates a new, mild, and promising method of cleaning nitrate-laden wastewater that produces ammonia as a valuable byproduct.