Grave-to-cradle upcycling of harmful algal biomass into atomically dispersed iron catalyst for efficient ammonia electrosynthesis from nitrate

Electrochemically converting nitrate, widely distributed in industrial wastewater and contaminated water bodies, into ammonia is a promising route for resource recovery and wastewater treatment. Meanwhile, treating harmful algal blooms (HABs) is presented worldwide, are time and resource-consuming, and carries a high CO2 footprint. Rather than considering this carbon and nitrogen-rich biomass as disposable waste, consider it a vast renewable resource. Therefore, this study presents a Fe-dispersed carbon-based catalyst derived from HABs biomass, with a maximum ammonia yield rate of 16449 μg h−1 cm−2 (1.2 mmol h−1 mgcat−1) and NH3 Faradaic efficiency of 87.3%. This catalyst also possessed decent stability with continuous operation over 50 h. Experimental and theoretical calculation results reveal that the Fe-N4 site facilitates electrocatalytic nitrate reduction reaction by reducing the energy barriers of the NO3–to-NH3 pathway. Thus, this strategy of upcycling HABs biomass waste into functional catalysts offers a multipronged approach to renewable and carbon-neutral energy technologies.