PerspectiveChemistry

More Can Be Better in N2 Activation

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Science  28 Jun 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6140, pp. 1530-1531
DOI: 10.1126/science.1240365

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Summary

Nitrogen is essential for life, but only a few organisms can convert the abundant dinitrogen (N2) molecules from the air into chemically usable forms of nitrogen. The Haber-Bosch process, developed over 100 years ago (1), combines N2 and H2 gases over activated iron surfaces to generate ammonia (NH3) for use as fertilizer or to produce other chemicals, but this process is extremely energy intensive. Chemists have long searched for a low-energy process that converts N2 to ammonia or higher-value nitrogen compounds such as N-heterocycles or amines. However, the intrinsic inertness of N2 has made it challenging to discover metal complexes that can both bind and activate it. On page 1549, Shima et al. report a trititanium hydride cluster that cleaves N2 and functionalizes it to form N-H bonds (2).