Ammonia production is one of the largest industrial processes, and is currently responsible for over 1.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Decarbonising this process, yielding ‘green ammonia’, is critical not only for sustainable fertilizer production, but also to unlocking ammonia's potential as a zero-carbon fuel and hydrogen store. In this perspective, we critically assess the role of cutting-edge heterogeneous catalysts to facilitate milder ammonia synthesis conditions that will help unlock cheaper, smaller-scale, renewables-coupled ammonia production. The highly-optimised performance of catalysts under the high temperatures and pressures of the Haber–Bosch process stands in contrast to the largely mediocre activity levels reported at lower temperatures and pressures. We identify the recent advances in catalyst design that help overcome the sluggish kinetics of nitrogen activation under these conditions and undertake a categorized analysis of improved activity achieved in a range of heterogeneous catalysts. Building on these observations, we develop a ‘catalyst efficiency’ analysis which helps uncover the success of a holistic approach — one that addresses the issues of nitrogen activation, hydrogenation of adsorbed nitrogen species, and engineering of materials to maximize the utilization of active sites — for achieving the elusive combination of high-activity, low-temperature formulations. Furthermore, we present a discussion on the industrial considerations to catalyst development, emphasising the importance of catalyst lifetime in addition to catalyst activity. This assessment is critical to ensuring that high productivities can translate into real advances in commercial ammonia synthesis.
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