Published on 30 Aug 2021

A 'greener' way to make fertilizer – Professor Alex Yan Qingyu and Associate Professor Li Shuzhou

We are delighted to share the research achievement of Professor Alex Yan Qingyu, Associate Professor Li Shuzhou and team, which has been featured in various media.

Professor Alex Yan and team have devised a new 'greener' method to make a key compound in fertiliser, and that may pave the way to a more sustainable agricultural practice as global food demand rises.

Devised by NTU researchers, the method produces a compound known as ‘urea’, which is a natural product found in the urine of mammals, and an essential compound for fertilisers that is mass-produced industrially to increase crop yields.

However, the current industrial method used to make urea is a costly, fossil fuel reliant, energy-intensive process that creates significant CO2 emissions, contributing to annual global energy use.
Seeking a more sustainable and energy-efficient method, the team found a way to greatly improve an existing alternative approach to urea production known as electrocatalysis – using electricity to drive chemical reactions in a solution.

Using the nanomaterial indium hydroxide as a catalyst, the researchers reacted nitrate and carbon dioxide and found that the process formed urea five times more efficiently than previously reported attempts using electrocatalysis, specifically by causing the chemical reaction to take place in a ‘highly selective’ manner.

Co-lead author of the study, Professor Alex Yan from the NTU School of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) said, "Our method essentially manipulates the chemical reaction process to become ‘highly selective’. By picking a better catalyst, we helped the nitrate ions and carbon dioxide molecules to optimally position themselves to facilitate urea formation, while suppressing the creation of unnecessary by-products like hydrogen, leading to higher efficiency and better urea yields."

From left: Prof Alex Yan, Dr Lyu Chade, Ms Carmen Lee, Dr Zhong Lixiang and Assoc Prof Li Shuzhou and team devised a new ‘greener’ method to make a key compound in fertiliser . Source: NTUSG Youtube

The breakthrough research was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Sustainability, with the title “Selective electrocatalytic synthesis of urea with nitrate and carbon dioxide”. The research article can be found via this link:

Our heartiest congratulations to Prof Yan, Prof Li and team on the excellent achievement!

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