Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

# Selective catalytic oxidation of ammonia to nitric oxide via chemical looping

## Abstract

Selective oxidation of ammonia to nitric oxide over platinum-group metal alloy gauzes is the crucial step for nitric acid production, a century-old yet greenhouse gas and capital intensive process. Therefore, developing alternative ammonia oxidation technologies with low environmental impacts and reduced catalyst cost are of significant importance. Herein, we propose and demonstrate a chemical looping ammonia oxidation catalyst and process to replace the costly noble metal catalysts and to reduce greenhouse gas emission. The proposed process exhibit near complete NH3 conversion and exceptional NO selectivity with negligible N2O production, using nonprecious V2O5 redox catalyst at 650 oC. Operando spectroscopy techniques and density functional theory calculations point towards a modified, temporally separated Mars-van Krevelen mechanism featuring a reversible V5+/V4+ redox cycle. The V = O sites are suggested to be the catalytically active center leading to the formation of the oxidation products. Meanwhile, both V = O and doubly coordinated oxygen participate in the hydrogen transfer process. The outstanding performance originates from the low activation energies for the successive hydrogen abstraction, facile NO formation as well as the easy regeneration of V = O species. Our results highlight a transformational process in extending the chemical looping strategy to producing base chemicals in a sustainable and cost-effective manner.

## Introduction

Catalytic oxidation of ammonia to NO is the core reaction for producing nitric acid, one of the top-ten bulk chemicals by annual consumption (over 100 million tons per year) and widely applied in the manufacturing of fertilizers, nylon, dyes, and explosives, among others1,2,3. Since the early 20th century, the Ostwald process (4NH3 + 5O2 → 4NO + 6H2O), which utilizes Pt-Rh alloy (5-10% Rh) gauzes as the catalysts for ammonia oxidation at high temperatures (800–950 °C) and pressures (up to 12 atm), has been the industrial standard1,4,5,6,7,8,9. The NO yield can reach 90−98% depending on the operation parameters, rendering it one of the most efficient catalytic reactions1. However, Pt loss through volatilization (0.05–0.3 g per ton of nitric acid produced) at high-temperature and strongly oxidizing atmosphere results in significant catalytic performance decays and high operating costs1,6,7. Moreover, nitric acid production is the largest source of the greenhouse gas N2O in the chemical industry (125 million tons CO2-equiv per year)10. The above economic challenges and environmental concern stimulate research towards developing cost-efficient catalysts and new processes with favorable NO yield while reducing N2O emission.

Over the past decades, extensive efforts have been devoted to replacing noble metal catalysts with transition metal oxides2,3,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18. A large number of metal oxide catalysts have claimed promising performance for ammonia oxidation, including spinels (Co3O4)17,19, perovskites (ABO3 where A = Ca, Sr, La, and B = Mn, Co, Fe)3,12,13,15 and K2NiF4 structured oxides (La2BO4 where B = Co, Cu, Ni)1. The industrial implementation is impeded, however, by the insufficient NO selectivity and rapid catalyst deactivation. For instance, Co3O4 exhibited good activity towards NH3 oxidation with a promising NO selectivity over 90%1,17,19. However, the rapid deactivation due to the reduction to less active CoO, despite in the presence of considerable excess O2, has impaired its commercial deployment. Recently, an alternative approach based on oxygen-conducting membrane reactor was proposed, where the O2 and NH3 were supplied at feed and permeate side of the membrane reactor separately3,15. Pérez Ramírez et al. demonstrated that by exploiting Ca- and Sr-substituted lanthanum ferrite membranes for the high-temperature NH3 oxidation, high NO selectivities (92–98%) can be attained with NH3 conversion ranges between 80 and 95%3. However, the stability of the oxygen ionic transport membranes are often impaired by cation segregation and/or physical degradation. Therefore, it is imperative to research into new intensified processes for NH3 oxidation.

One method towards process intensification is chemical looping, whereby oxidation reactions are decoupled into two-step, spatially separated cyclic redox processes20,21,22,23. Chemical looping is a new frontier for producing valuable chemicals in a clean and efficient manner24,25,26,27,28, and has been demonstrated for processing methane28,29,30,31,32,33,34,35, biofuels36,37, syngas38,39, coal and carbonaceous feedstocks22,40,41 with low cost, reduced emissions and higher energy efficiency. Herein, we proposed and validated the chemical looping ammonia oxidation (CLAO) process. As depicted in Fig. 1, during the reduction step, NH3 is oxidized by the active lattice oxygen derived from the metal oxide redox catalyst, producing concentrated NO. In the subsequent oxidation step, the reduced metal oxide redox catalyst is re-oxidized with air, completing the redox cycle. The CLAO process is potentially advantageous compared to the conventional co-feed approach where NH3 and air are introduced simultaneously. First, since CLAO process decouples the reaction into two, the operation parameters can be optimized independently in order to achieve improved performances. Second, catalyst deactivation could be avoided as the reduced catalyst is regenerated in each oxidation half cycle. Third, the utilization of lattice oxygen instead of nonselective gaseous oxygen may effectively suppress the formation of undesirable N2O, thus reducing the greenhouse gas footprint. That last point is that as large quantities of inert N2 (about 3/4 of the total flow in a current plant)3 are excluded from the product NO, allowing for a radically intensified process for nitric acid production.

The metal oxide redox catalyst functions as the reactive intermediate to transport oxygen ions between the cyclic steps. Hence, the techno-economic viability of the CLAO technology is critically dependent upon the redox properties of the metal oxide catalyst. By virtue of the excellent catalytic activity in various redox reactions, vanadium oxide catalysts have been intensively investigated in chemical and environmental industries, including oxidative dehydrogenation of alkanes, oxidation of methanol to formaldehyde, mass production of sulfuric acid, and selective catalytic reduction of NOx42,43,44,45,46,47,48. In recent studies, V2O5-based redox catalysts have emerged as attractive candidates for oxidative dehydrogenation of ethane via chemical looping, due to the easy accessibility of lattice oxygen and appropriate bonding strength49,50. Generally, three types of lattice oxygen can be distinguished within the unit cell of V2O5 (Fig. S1): (i) singly coordinated terminal oxygen OI, namely vanadyl (V=O); (ii) doubly coordinated oxygen OII bridging two vanadium atoms; and (iii) triply coordinated oxygen OIII bridging three vanadium atoms51,52. The exact role of different lattice oxygen is crucial in determining the product distribution. However, controversy remains on what type of oxygen is the active site for selective oxidation reactions.

In this study, V2O5 was employed as a prototype catalyst to investigate the feasibility of the proposed CLAO process given the aforementioned distinct redox properties. The cyclic NH3 conversion activity and NOx selectivity were evaluated in consecutive isothermal cycles under alternating NH3 and O2 atmospheres. Encouragingly, superior NH3 conversion (97.0%) and NO selectivity (99.8%) were achieved with largely suppressed N2O emission (0.1%) at a low temperature of 650 oC, demonstrating exceptional efficacy of the CLAO technology. In comparison, the maximum NH3 conversion and NO selectivity in the co-feed mode were only 87.1% and 32.4%, respectively, with a fairly high N2O selectivity of 16.8% at 600 °C. On the basis of detailed physicochemical characterization, we endeavored to gain a detailed understanding of the NH3 oxidation mechanism complemented by density functional theory (DFT) calculations. In particular, the catalytic roles of different lattice oxygen of V2O5 were investigated in detail. In situ Raman spectroscopy revealed that terminal oxygen (V=O) being the active center for catalytic NH3 oxidation. Furthermore, XPS and XANES indicated that the reaction involved the reversible reduction of V5+ to V4+, with V=O participated in the oxidation of NH3 via a modified, temporally separated Mars-van Krevelen (MvK) mechanism. The subsequent re-oxidation of vanadium cation to V5+ with molecular oxygen replenished V=O and completed the catalytic cycle. The facile reaction between V=O and NH3 (activation energy: 16.0 kJ/mol) was responsible for the extraordinary NH3 oxidation performance at a relatively low temperature, as substantiated by DFT calculations.

## Results

### Redox performance and stability

In order to validate the feasibility of the proposed CLAO process, consecutive redox cycles were carried out to investigate the product distribution and the overall chemical looping process efficiency. Figure 2a illustrates the ammonia conversion and product distribution over V2O5 as a function of temperature in a typical chemical looping mode. The corresponding products evolution upon NH3 injection are reproduced in Fig. S2a–h, which indicates that NO, N2O, and N2 were the only N-containing products. While no H2 was observed in the reaction temperature range, water being the only H-containing product that has been condensed out to avoid interference. As depicted in Fig. 2a, ammonia conversion increases from 78.5% to 97.0% at 300–650 °C and plateaus around 97.0% in the temperature range of 580 to 650 °C. Meanwhile, the selectivity to nitrogen-containing products depends critically upon temperature: N2 is the dominant product at low temperature (<500 °C), whereas NO takes over at high temperature (580–650 °C). The selectivity to NO starts at 400 °C and increases continuously with increasing temperature, reaching a maximum of 99.8% at 650 °C. Accordingly, the increase of NO selectivity is coupled with the progressive decrease in N2 and N2O selectivity. It is worth noting that N2O formation is greatly inhibited (0.1% selectivity at 650 °C). In comparison, V2O5 redox catalyst exhibits notably different results in a conventional co-feed mode. As shown in Fig. 2b, ammonia conversion increases from 26.1% to 87.8% at increasing temperature and reaches a plateau from 500 to 650 °C. The maximum ammonia conversion (87.8%) is considerably lower than that in the chemical looping mode (97.0%). In terms of product selectivity, NO peaks at 300 °C with an inferior selectivity of 34.2% and decreases significantly when rising the temperature to 400 °C. A further increase in temperature resulted in increased formation of NO. After passing through a maximum at 600 °C, NO formation slightly decreases with a further increase in temperature. The decreased NO formation with a concurrent increase in N2 formation at higher temperatures (600–650 °C) can be related to the selective catalytic reduction (SCR) of NO with NH3. A similar parallel SCR mechanism was also proposed in a recent study of Decarolis et al.53, which indicates the oxidation of NH3 to NOx by PdO and the subsequent catalytic reduction of NOx by NH3 to produce N2. In addition, a high N2O selectivity (13.6–26.9%) is observed over the reaction temperature range. Fig. S3a, b illustrates the NH3 oxidation performance with different O2 partial pressure. Furthermore, we also investigated the ammonia oxidation performance for typical single and binary redox metal oxide catalysts in chemical looping mode. The optimized NH3 conversion and selectivity towards NO, N2O, and N2 are compared in Table S1. The NH3 conversions are close to 100% irrespective of the catalyst used. Nonetheless, the NO selectivity is relatively lower than V2O5 in chemical looping mode and industrially relevant Pt-Rh in the conventional co-feed mode. Hence, superior NH3 conversion can be achieved over V2O5 via chemical looping with close to complete NO selectivity at 650 °C, which is sufficiently lower than the industrial ammonia oxidation reaction temperature of 810–950 °C over Pt-Rh gauzes. Moreover, the NH3 conversion and NO selectivity for V2O5 also compared very favorably with those reported in the membrane mode that carried out at significantly higher temperatures (Table S1), evidencing the great efficiency of the proposed CLAO process.

Kinetically, chemical looping reactions are generally slower than conventional catalytic oxidation/reduction reactions, which are commonly encountered in chemical looping process. This is because the rates of redox reactions are limited by the removal and replenishment of lattice oxygen from/to the bulk of the redox catalyst. The CLAO process proposed here resulted in a normalized NO production rate of 56.4 ml gcatalyst−1 h−1 (Table S1). The NO production rate of conventional co-feeding mode reported here ranged between 105.2-127.6 ml gcatalyst−1 h−1 (Table S1). While the NO production rates are on the same order of magnitude, the superior NH3 conversion and NO selectivity of CLAO approach can potentially eliminate the costly separation units, ensure safer operation and inhibit nonselective oxidation reactions, which contribute to the economic attractiveness of the NH3 oxidation process. Furthermore, to ensure a relatively faster surface oxygen removal rate, two potential strategies have been proposed for the chemical looping process23. One is through doping or lattice site substitution, in an attempt to introduce crystallographic defects that facilitate oxygen ion diffusion. The second strategy is to promote the redox metal oxide with catalytically active species on the surface to decrease the activation energy for reactant activation and to enhance the lattice oxygen consumption from the bulk. Both strategies may open up extensive possibilities for the CLAO process.

To elucidate the dynamics of surface lattice oxygen removal during the reduction step, the initial maximum lattice oxygen extraction rate for NH3 oxidation during the first pulse was determined from Fig. S2a–h, considering the following stoichiometry reaction pathways as no H2 is produced (all the H ends up into H2O, which was condensed out before entering the quadrupole spectrometer):

$${{{{{{\rm{NH}}}}}}}_{3}+2.5{{{{{{\rm{O}}}}}}}_{{{{{{\rm{lattice}}}}}}}\to {{{{{\rm{NO}}}}}}+1.5{{{{{{\rm{H}}}}}}}_{2}{{{{{\rm{O}}}}}}$$
(1)
$$2{{{{{{\rm{NH}}}}}}}_{3}+3{{{{{{\rm{O}}}}}}}_{{{{{{\rm{lattice}}}}}}}\to {{{{{{\rm{N}}}}}}}_{2}+3{{{{{{\rm{H}}}}}}}_{2}{{{{{\rm{O}}}}}}$$
(2)
$$2{{{{{{\rm{NH}}}}}}}_{3}+4{{{{{{\rm{O}}}}}}}_{{{{{{\rm{lattice}}}}}}}\to {{{{{{\rm{N}}}}}}}_{2}{{{{{\rm{O}}}}}}+3{{{{{{\rm{H}}}}}}}_{2}{{{{{\rm{O}}}}}}$$
(3)

And the results are summarized in Table S2. By fitting the maximum oxygen donation rate of V2O5 redox catalyst with the Arrhenius equation, the apparent activation energy for the surface lattice oxygen removal is estimated to be as low as 16.0 kJ mol−1 (Fig. 2c), which is in line with its superior low-temperature NH3 oxidation activity. To gain a quantitative picture of the effect of lattice oxygen extraction on the NH3 conversion and product distribution over V2O5 in the CLAO process, the NH3 conversion, NO, N2, N2O selectivity as well as the accumulated lattice oxygen withdrawn from the original sample (δ) is plotted as a function of the NH3 pulse numbers (Fig. 2d). Starting with a fully oxidized catalyst surface, NH3 conversion and NO formation are initially very high, with NH3 conversion amounts to 97% and NO selectivity approaching 100% in the first 10 pulses. The initial high NO selectivity can be associated with the presence of highly reactive and selective lattice oxygen species. Subsequently, the NO selectivity decreases with ongoing pulse number. The NH3 conversion, in contrast, is practically constant with increasing pulse numbers. The total lattice oxygen consumption increases linearly with increasing number of pulses. It should be noted that NH3 conversion above 97%, NO selectivity above 90% can be achieved, with insignificant N2O selectivity, even after 30 pulses of NH3. And this corresponds to the catalyst where ~2.4% of the total oxygen is removed, equivalent to overall composition of V2O5-0.12. In addition, we further explored the NH3 conversion and product distribution over V2O5 with 180 pulses of NH3. As shown in Fig. S4, the NH3 conversion remains close to 100%. Meanwhile, the N2O formation is largely inhibited. On the other hand, the NO selectivity decreases accompanied by the increase of N2 formation with increasing pulse number. The decreased NO selectivity can be tentatively attributed to the decreasing amount of active oxygen species available from the catalyst during the sequence. Figure 2e exemplifies NH3 conversion and product distribution over 5 cycles for <1300 min of continuous operation. As can be seen, NH3 conversion remains close to constant over the redox cycles. Despite the decrease in NO selectivity with increasing pulse number, a reoxidation of V2O5 catalyst fully restores the initial NO selectivity when pulsing NH3, indicating excellent recyclability through redox cycling. Based on the foregoing multipulse NH3 experiments, it can be concluded that the ammonia oxidation to nitric oxide over V2O5 in the proposed CLAO process proceeds via a modified, temporally separated MvK scheme. NH3 is first activated by the lattice oxygen of V2O5 redox catalyst in the absence of gas-phase oxygen, yielding NOx and a reduced VOx center. The reduction degree of V2O5 dictates the product distribution but does not alter the catalytic NH3 oxidation activity. The reduced vanadium oxide surface sites are subsequently replenished by the spatially separated reoxidation step, closing the redox cycle.

### Redox catalyst characterizations

To rationally develop a process for ammonia oxidation to nitric oxide catalyzed by redox metal oxide, in-depth understanding of the redox chemistry and reaction pathways is of prime importance. In this section, thorough physicochemical characterization combined with density functional theory calculations were employed to reveal the catalyst structure–activity relationship. Powder X-ray diffraction (XRD) was conducted to investigate the possible crystalline phase transition and structural stability of as-prepared, reduced, and reoxidized catalyst. As illustrated in Fig. 3a, the XRD pattern of the as calcined sample corresponds well to single-phase orthorhombic V2O5 structure (JCPDS 01-089-0612). Upon NH3 pulse reduction, new reflections associated with V6O13 (17.76° and 30.15°, JCPDS 00-019-1399) and VO2 (26.92° and 27.88°, JCPDS 03- 065-2358), respectively, are identified apart from V2O5. This indicates that V2O5 was partially reduced due to the stoichiometric reaction of the active lattice oxygen species with NH3. In addition, peaks attributed to V6O13 and VO2 progressively increased in intensity with increasing NH3 pulse number as more lattice oxygen was extracted. After CLAO cycling, V6O13 and VO2 peaks vanished, implying that the reduced phase was completely reoxidized. Therefore, it was confirmed that V2O5 redox catalyst possesses excellent cycling stability over the redox cycles. For comparison, the XRD pattern of V2O5 in conventional co-feed mode is also shown, which indicates negligible structural change after the activity measurement (see Fig. S5 for more details).

In order to track the surface chemical state evolution of vanadium during the CLAO process, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) measurements were employed. The high-resolution XPS spectra in the V 2p region of V2O5 redox catalyst after different treatments are presented in Figs. 3b, S6a–d, and S7. For the initial catalyst (i), a strong peak centered at 517.4 eV (red) along with a broad satellite peak at a higher binding energy (blue) was observed, which agrees well with the signature of V5+ in V2O554,55. After 30 pulses of NH3 reduction (ii), the V5+ peak decreased and an additional peak emerged at a lower binding energy of 516.3 eV. Deconvolution of the V 2p3/2 region suggests that V was predominantly present in two different oxidation states, namely, V5+ (79.7%) and V4+ (20.3%) (see Table S3 for further details). For V2O5 sample subjected to 180 pulses of NH3 reduction (iii), the V4+ component further increased (V4+, 38.4%) due to the enhanced reduction extent (Table S3). Note that no V3+ or V2+ was identified, evidencing that the vanadium existed only in the form of V5+ and V4+ after reduction with NH3. For V2O5 sample after the CLAO redox cycling (iv), the intensity of V5+ peak at 517.4 eV was recovered. Meanwhile, the contribution of V4+ completely disappeared, pointing toward a dynamic recovery of vanadium following reoxidation. For comparison, no apparent reduction was observed for V2O5 after NH3 oxidation reaction in the co-feed mode (Fig. S7). The above results highlight that vanadium could undergo reversible reduction and oxidation featuring a V5+/V4+ redox cycle in the CLAO process.

In situ Raman spectroscopy was further employed to determine the nature of the active centers on V2O5 redox catalyst, as it constitutes a highly sensitive tool for monitoring the rearrangements of V–O at an atomic level62,63,64. Fig. S13a presents the Raman spectrum of the fresh V2O5 sample. A set of intense Raman bands at 100, 144, 198, 284, 303, 406, 481, 525, 701, and 994 cm−1 were identified, which correspond well to crystalline V2O5 nanoparticles62,63. The highest frequency mode at 994 cm−1 has been attributed to the shortest vanadyl (V=O) stretch within VO5 square pyramids. Whereas, the low-frequency modes at 100, 144 and 198 cm−1 have been assigned to external modes corresponding to the displacements of [VO5–VO5] units, which serve as a good baseline for reflecting the long-range order within V2O5. The next highest modes at 701 and 525 cm−1 are ascribed to the stretching vibration of V–OII–V bands, while the relatively weak mode at 481 cm−1 is associated with the bending of V–OIII–V bridging units. Three additional modes at 284, 303, and 406 cm−1 are assigned to bond rocking oscillations involving the terminal oxygen atoms. The in situ Raman spectra for V2O5 during NH3 reduction and the following O2 oxidation step are depicted Figs. 4 and S13b, c. As shown in Fig. 4a, both V = O and [VO5–VO5] bands lost intensity with increasing reduction time, implying the removal of terminal oxygen and the continual loss of long-range order within V2O5. After re-oxidation, the V = O and [VO5–VO5] bands were reinstated (Fig. 4b), indicating the reversible structural changes upon re-oxidation. Contrarily, no notable change in intensity was observed for V–OII–V and V–OIII–V peaks during the reduction and oxidation steps (Fig. 4a, b). By tracking the evolution of V=O vibration (994 cm−1) as a function of time, it was noticed that the V=O Raman band gradually diminished in intensity during the reduction step (Figs. 4c and S13b), which strongly indicate the destroying of V = O sites after reacting with NH3. Interestingly, during the following re-oxidation step (Figs. 4b and S13c), V=O Raman band increased slowly within the first 10 min. Subsequently, the V=O signal rapidly approached to a maximum within the next 5 min, indicating that the V=O sites were rapidly regenerated after re-oxidizing with O2. Hence, the above XANES and Raman spectroscopy results indicate that the reaction proceeds via a unique, temporally separated MvK mechanism associated with the breaking and regeneration of V=O bonds. While a classical MvK mechanism would involve concurrent removal and restoration of surface lattice oxygen species in separate steps, and often at spatially separated active centers65,66. Under the CLAO reaction scheme, the active V=O sites selectively activates and reacts with ammonia, while being removed from the surface. In a subsequent, temporally separated oxidation step, the active V=O sites were restored as confirmed by in-situ Raman spectra.

The crystallinity and surface morphology of V2O5 redox catalyst were investigated by HRTEM and SEM techniques. The high-resolution TEM image and the corresponding Fast Fourier transform (FFT) pattern are demonstrated in Fig. 5a. The as-calcined sample exhibited well-resolved lattice fringes of 3.4 and 5.7 Å (Fig. 5a), which coincide with the (110) and (200) facets of rhombohedral V2O5, respectively. Figure 5b–d shows representative SEM images of the as-calcined V2O5 sample, V2O5 after 30 NH3 pluses reduction as well as V2O5 after the CLAO redox cycling. The as-calcined sample are platelet-like in shape with thicknesses ranging from 0.8–1.5 μm, lateral and longitudinal dimensions of 2–6 μm (Fig. 5b). In the case of V2O5 after 30 NH3 pluses reduction (Fig. 5c) and V2O5 after the CLAO redox cycling (Fig. 5d), severe sintering and substantial morphological changes were not observed, confirming the robustness and stability of V2O5 redox catalyst under the demanding reducing and oxidizing cycling.

### DFT studies

To gain a more fundamental understanding of the CLAO reaction mechanism, DFT calculations were carried out to elucidate the reaction landscape associated with the dissociation of NH3 and the formation of NO, N2, N2O, and H2O. In particular, the catalytic roles of different oxygen sites are investigated in detail. The reaction is initiated by the adsorption of NH3 on V2O5 (001) surface (Fig. S14), where the single NH3 adsorption and two NH3 co-adsorption were both studied. As shown in Fig. S15, the reaction pathway for single NH3 adsorption is less favorable due to the very high reaction barrier (1.42 eV) of the rate-determining step (refer to Supplementary information for more details). Meanwhile, NO formation starting from the two NH3 co-adsorbed configurations (Eads = 3.95 eV) is also investigated, in which the surface of V2O5 (001) retains the original structure without serious reconstructions. As illustrated in Fig. 6a, the first hydrogen migrates to adjacent OII, forming an OIIH and NH2*, which is the rate-determining step endothermic by 0.21 eV with a medium barrier of 1.06 eV. The first hydrogen tends to continue migrating to the neighboring OI bonding with neighboring V, which is more energetically favorable with a much lower barrier of 0.47 eV in comparison with the direct dehydrogenation of the second hydrogen (1.80 eV, Fig. S16). This step liberates the OII site in the vicinity of NH2*, promoting the second hydrogen transfer with a relatively small barrier of 0.79 eV. Subsequently, the NHO* intermediate is formed via the combination of NH* and OI (activated by 0.15 eV), followed by H2OI formation via the second hydrogen transfer from OII site to the OIH site with an extreme small barrier of 0.09 eV. This step again liberates the OII site to accommodate the last hydrogen, resulting in NO* formation with a negligible barrier of 0.03 eV. The resulting NO* can be released from the surface with 0.16 eV energy increase. The above DFT calculations clearly indicate that the oxidation of NH3 to NO and H2O is favorably occurring on vanadyl oxygen OI site (V = O), while the successive stripping of hydrogen is catalyzed by both OI and OII sites. This result is in line with the in situ Raman spectroscopy, in which only V = O consumption was observed when reacting with NH3.

For N2 formation, two possible reaction pathways were considered according to whether atomic N* intermediates are produced. The energetically more favorable pathway is depicted in Fig. 6b. Initially, two NH3 dehydrogenate into two NH2* species with the activation barriers of 1.06 (rate-determining step) and 0.89 eV, respectively. Instead of continuing dehydrogenation, the two NH2* tend to combine into the NH2NH2* intermediate due to the relatively low reaction barrier (0.90 eV). Upon NH2NH2* formation, the final 4 steps of hydrogen abstraction proceed, each with a relatively low activation barrier, resulting in N2 formation. For each dehydrogenation step, all possible hydrogen accepter sites were examined. Our calculations reveal that both OI and OII could be hydrogen accepters during the dehydrogenation steps due to the close energy barriers. For comparison, the atomic N* was also considered as the intermediates. As shown in Fig. S17, the entire reaction process is exothermic (−5.10 eV), however, all dehydrogenation and N–N combination steps are highly endothermic with the highest activation barrier being 1.49 eV, making this pathway less feasible. It should be noted that since both NO and N2 formation share the same rate-determining step (TS1 in Fig. 6a, b), their relative rates are largely determined by the second highest barriers as highlighted in orange, i.e. the second hydrogen transfer (0.79 eV) (NH2* → NH*) for NO formation and the two NH2* combination (2NH2* → NH2NH2*) (0.90 eV) for N2 formation. To take the temperature effects into account, the Gibbs free energy corrections over temperature for these two key steps were calculated as shown in Fig. S18. Results show that the free energy barriers of NH2* → NH* are always much lower than those of 2NH2* → NH2NH2*, which is coherent with experimental observations whereby NO prevails at high temperature. It should be noted that at this stage, the existing DFT calculations are not sufficient to justify the product selectivity considering the complexity of the reaction networks. This problem may be addressed in future studies by using more advanced kinetic analysis methods like microkinetic modeling. Additionally, the energy potential profiles as well as the possible intermediates for N2O formation is illustrated in Fig. 6c. Starting from the NO* + NH3* configuration, the first N–H bond cleavage is also the rate-determining step with a relatively large activation barrier of 1.31 eV higher than that of NO and N2 formation (1.06 eV). Thus, N2O is largely suppressed during the reaction, which is in well accordance with the experiments. Notably, the oxygen atoms in the resulting oxidation products also arise from OI. Based on combined experimental and theoretical studies, it is therefore concluded that OI sites are the major oxidants leading to the formation of oxidation products, meanwhile both OI and OII sites participate in the hydrogen transfer processes. The inhibition of N2O formation makes V2O5 a very selective catalyst for CLAO processes.

## Discussion

In this contribution, catalytic ammonia oxidation to nitric oxide via a chemical looping approach was proposed and demonstrated in absence of noble metal catalyst. Among many metal oxide redox catalysts investigated, V2O5 exhibited superior NH3 conversion at a substantially lower temperature with an outstanding NO selectivity (99.8%), outperforming the expensive, commercially applied Pt−Rh gauzes at a temperature up to 300 °C lower. In addition, the selectivity to undesirable N2O was largely suppressed, which was distinctly different from NH3 oxidation in the conventional co-feed mode. Repeatable NH3 conversion and product selectivity were achieved during consecutive redox cycles over 1300 min. The superior performance was rationalized down to the atomic level by both operando and ex-situ characterization techniques complemented by DFT calculations. Results show that the proposed CLAO process operates via a modified, temporally separated MvK redox mechanism featuring a reversible V5+/V4+ redox cycle. The vanadyl (V=O) centers act as active sites for NH3 oxidation, leading to the formation of the oxidation products. Meanwhile both V=O and doubly coordinated oxygen (OII) participate in the hydrogen transfer process. The superior activity and selectivity can be attributed to the low activation energies for the successive hydrogen abstraction and facile NO formation facilitated by V=O. The fundamental understanding and the proof-of-concept for CLAO can open exciting perspectives for nitric acid manufacturing in a cleaner, more sustainable and cost-efficient manner.

## Methods

### Catalyst synthesis

V2O5 was purchased from Energy chemical (+99.5%). The as-received powder was calcined under stagnant air at 650 °C for 4 h with a ramp rate of 2 °C min−1. Prior to use, the calcined sample was ground into a fine powder using a mortar and pestle. Additionally, commercially available CeO2 (99.5%, Aladdin Industrial Corp.), SnO2 (99.5%, Aladdin Industrial Corp.), Fe3O4 (99%, Aladdin Industrial Corp.), NiFe2O4 (99.5%, Aladdin Industrial Corp.), CoFe2O4 (99.5%, Aladdin Industrial Corp.), and ZnFe2O4 (99.5%, Aladdin Industrial Corp.) were also investigated for comparison.

### Catalytic activity measurements

The ammonia oxidation process was conducted at atmospheric pressure in a fixed-bed quartz U-tube reactor (i.d. = 9.75 mm), which was enclosed by an electric furnace (AutoChem II 2920 Micromeritics). Both chemical looping and co-feed modes were carried out for reactivity test in the temperature range of 300–650 °C. In both modes, 200 mg of the catalyst was packed between two layers of quartz wool within the isothermal zone of the reactor. The temperature was controlled using a K-type thermocouple in direct contact with the catalyst bed. The inlet gas flow rates were regulated by calibrated mass flow controllers.

1. (i)

In typical chemical looping mode, pulses of 5% NH3 (765 μL, balance Ar) were injected into the reactor using Ar (30 mL min−1) as the carrier gas. Subsequently, a regeneration step was conducted using 30% O2 (30 mL min−1, balance Ar). To study the evolution of catalytic performances, 30 consecutive ammonia pulses were injected to reduce the redox catalysts, followed by an oxidation step with simulated air (30% O2/Ar) at a total flow rate of 30 mL min−1 for 30 min. In between the reduction and oxidation step, a purge step with pure Ar (30 mL min−1) was introduced for 15 min to assure well-defined conditions.

2. (ii)

In typical co-feed mode, steady-state ammonia oxidation was carried out using feeds containing 5% NH3/Ar (30 mL min−1) and O2 (12.86 mL min−1) with the effective O2 percentage of 30%.

Outlet gas concentrations were monitored online after condensation of moisture by a quadrupole spectrometer (Pfeiffer Omnistar QMS 200), using Ar as internal standard. And the corresponding molar flow rates (ni) were calculated. The spectra signals were calibrated before each experiment with calibration gas of known compositions (5.0% NH3/Ar, 6006 ppm NO/Ar, 3002 ppm N2O/Ar, 5007 ppm N2/Ar, 4995 ppm H2/Ar). The atomic mass units (amu) related to NH3 (17), NO (30), N2O (44, 30, 28), N2 (28), H2 (2), and Ar (40) were analyzed. The fraction originated from N2O was deducted from the signal at 30 and 28 amu before NO and N2 quantification. The accuracy of the measurement was assured by performing nitrogen balances and the deviations were closed within 10% for all reported experiments.

$${{{{{\rm{Nitrogen}}}}}}\; {{{{{\rm{balance}}}}}}:{\int }_{0}^{{{{{{\rm{t}}}}}}}{{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{NH}}}}}}}_{{3,}_{{{{{{\rm{in}}}}}}}}}{{{{{\rm{dt}}}}}}= {\int }_{0}^{{{{{{\rm{t}}}}}}}{{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{NH}}}}}}}_{{3,}_{{{{{{\rm{out}}}}}}}}}{{{{{\rm{dt}}}}}}+{\int }_{0}^{{{{{{\rm{t}}}}}}}{{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{NO}}}}}},}_{{{{{{\rm{out}}}}}}}}{{{{{\rm{dt}}}}}}\\ +2{\int }_{0}^{{{{{{\rm{t}}}}}}}{{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{N}}}}}}}_{2}{{{{{\rm{O}}}}}}{,}_{{{{{{\rm{out}}}}}}}}{{{{{\rm{dt}}}}}}+2{\int }_{0}^{{{{{{\rm{t}}}}}}}{{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{N}}}}}}}_{{2,}_{{{{{{\rm{out}}}}}}}}}{{{{{\rm{dt}}}}}}\,$$
(4)

The NH3 conversion and NOx selectivity were calculated using the following formulas:

$${X}_{{{{{{{\rm{NH}}}}}}}_{3}}=\frac{{\int }_{0}^{{{{{{\rm{t}}}}}}}{{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{NH}}}}}}}_{{3,}_{{{{{{\rm{in}}}}}}}}}{{{{{\rm{dt}}}}}}-{\int }_{0}^{{{{{{\rm{t}}}}}}}{{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{NH}}}}}}}_{{3,}_{{{{{{\rm{out}}}}}}}}}{{{{{\rm{dt}}}}}}}{{\int }_{0}^{{{{{{\rm{t}}}}}}}{{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{NH}}}}}}}_{{3,}_{{{{{{\rm{in}}}}}}}}}{{{{{\rm{dt}}}}}}}$$
(5)
$${S}_{{{{{{\rm{NO}}}}}}}=\frac{{\int }_{0}^{{{{{{\rm{t}}}}}}}{{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{NO}}}}}},}_{{{{{{\rm{out}}}}}}}}{{{{{\rm{dt}}}}}}}{{\int }_{0}^{{{{{{\rm{t}}}}}}}{{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{NO}}}}}},}_{{{{{{\rm{out}}}}}}}}{{{{{\rm{dt}}}}}}+2{\int }_{0}^{{{{{{\rm{t}}}}}}}{{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{N}}}}}}}_{2}{{{{{\rm{O}}}}}}{,}_{{{{{{\rm{out}}}}}}}}{{{{{\rm{dt}}}}}}+2{\int }_{0}^{{{{{{\rm{t}}}}}}}{{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{N}}}}}}}_{{2,}_{{{{{{\rm{out}}}}}}}}}{{{{{\rm{dt}}}}}}\,}$$
(6)
$${S}_{{{{{{{\rm{N}}}}}}}_{2}{{{{{\rm{O}}}}}}}=\frac{2{\int }_{0}^{{{{{{\rm{t}}}}}}}{{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{N}}}}}}}_{2}{{{{{\rm{O}}}}}}{,}_{{{{{{\rm{out}}}}}}}}{{{{{\rm{dt}}}}}}}{{\int }_{0}^{{{{{{\rm{t}}}}}}}{{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{NO}}}}}}}_{,{{{{{\rm{out}}}}}}}}{{{{{\rm{dt}}}}}}+2{\int }_{0}^{{{{{{\rm{t}}}}}}}{{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{N}}}}}}}_{2}{{{{{\rm{O}}}}}}{,}_{{{{{{\rm{out}}}}}}}}{{{{{\rm{dt}}}}}}+2{\int }_{0}^{{{{{{\rm{t}}}}}}}{{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{N}}}}}}}_{{2,}_{{{{{{\rm{out}}}}}}}}}{{{{{\rm{dt}}}}}}\,}$$
(7)
$${S}_{{{{{{{\rm{N}}}}}}}_{2}}=\frac{2{\int }_{0}^{{{{{{\rm{t}}}}}}}{{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{N}}}}}}}_{{2,}_{{{{{{\rm{out}}}}}}}}}{{{{{\rm{dt}}}}}}}{{\int }_{0}^{{{{{{\rm{t}}}}}}}{{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{NO}}}}}},}_{{{{{{\rm{out}}}}}}}}{{{{{\rm{dt}}}}}}+2{\int }_{0}^{{{{{{\rm{t}}}}}}}{{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{N}}}}}}}_{2}{{{{{\rm{O}}}}}}{,}_{{{{{{\rm{out}}}}}}}}{{{{{\rm{dt}}}}}}+2{\int }_{0}^{{{{{{\rm{t}}}}}}}{{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{N}}}}}}}_{{2,}_{{{{{{\rm{out}}}}}}}}}{{{{{\rm{dt}}}}}}\,}$$
(8)

where $${{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{NH}}}}}}}_{{3,}_{{{{{{\rm{in}}}}}}}}}$$ is the molar flow rate of NH3 introduced into the reactor, $${{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{NH}}}}}}}_{{3,}_{{{{{{\rm{out}}}}}}}}}$$, $${{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{NO}}}}}},}_{{{{{{\rm{out}}}}}}}}$$, $${{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{N}}}}}}}_{2}{{{{{\rm{O}}}}}}{,}_{{{{{{\rm{out}}}}}}}}$$, and $${{{{{{\rm{n}}}}}}}_{{{{{{{\rm{N}}}}}}}_{{2,}_{{{{{{\rm{out}}}}}}}}}$$ is the molar flow rate of NH3, NO, N2O, and N2 from the gas outlet.

### Catalyst characterization

Powder X-ray diffraction (XRD) measurements were carried out to analyze the crystalline phases of the catalysts during the redox reaction. XRD patterns were recorded on a PANalytical diffractometer with Cu Kα radiation (λ = 1.5418 Å) at 40 kV and 40 mA. Recording was performed in the 2θ range of 10−80° with a step size of 0.02°. HighScore plus software was employed for phase identification with reference to the International Center for Diffraction Data (ICDD) database. The peak position gave information about the lattice spacing based on the Bragg law of diffraction.

X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy measurements were adopted for near-surface chemical states analysis using Thermo Fisher Scientific ESCALAB 250 equipped with a monochromatic Al Kα (hυ = 1486.6 eV) in ultrahigh vacuum conditions (base pressure P 3 × 10−8 Pa). Pressed samples were attached to conductive carbon adhesive tapes and the XPS spectra were recorded at a constant pass energy 20 eV and a resolution energy of 0.1 eV. Peak fitting was performed with XPSPEAK program Shirley background subtraction together with a combination of Gaussian–Lorentzian functions. The C 1 s peak at 284.6 eV was used for calibration of all binding energies.

X-ray absorption near-edge spectroscopy (XANES) measurements around the V K-edge (5465 eV) were performed at beam line 4W1B of Beijing Synchrotron Radiation Facility (BSRF). The storage ring was operated at 2.2 GeV with a typical electron current of 50 mA. The redox catalysts were homogeneously smeared on Scotch adhesive tape and folded to reach the optimum absorption thickness. Each sample was packed in a polyethylene bag under an argon atmosphere. Spectra were collected at ambient temperature in transmission mode with a double crystal Si(111) monochromator and vanadium foil as a reference material for edge-shift calibration. Reagent grade C10H14O5V and VCl3 were used as V4+ and V3+ standards, respectively. Data were normalized in a standard curve-fitting procedure using the Athena software program.

In situ Raman spectroscopy studies were performed using a high-resolution LabRam HR800 confocal Raman microprobe (Horiba-Jobin Yvon, France) equipped with three laser excitations (532, 442, and 325 nm). The experiments were performed in an in situ high-temperature Linkam CCR1000 cell attached to a gas manifold. The spectra were collected using the 532-nm laser with five accumulations at 10 s per scan and a 200-μm laser hole size. Prior to the measurements, the sample was heated to 650 °C (10 °C min−1 ramp) under 2.2 ml/min Ar. The redox behavior and molecular structures of the catalyst was fingerprinted via the following two-step procedure. (i) Reduction under 5% NH3/Ar (2.2 ml/min). Raman spectra were collected during the reduction process until a constant intensity (or complete disappearance of the peak) was achieved. (ii) Oxidation under 30% O2/Ar (2.2 ml/min). Raman spectra were taken during the oxidation process until a constant intensity was achieved.

The surface morphology of the fresh and cycled catalyst was observed by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) on a JSM-7800F instrument using an accelerating voltage of 1 kV. Samples were dusted on an adhesive conductive carbon belt attached to a copper disk. High-resolution transmission electron microscopy (HRTEM) characterization was implemented on a JEOL JEM-2200F microscope operated at 200 kV with a linear resolution of 0.10 nm. Prior to measurement, catalyst sample was ultrasonicated in ethanol and deposited on copper grids coated with a holey carbon film, followed by drying at room temperature.

### Computational details

DFT calculations were performed using the Vienna ab initio Simulations Package (VASP)67 with the frozen-core all-electron projector augmented wave (PAW) model68 and Perdew-Burke-Ernzerhof (PBE) functional69. A kinetic energy cutoff of 400 eV was used for the plane-wave expansion of the electronic wave functions, and the convergence criteria of force and energy were set to 0.01 eV/Å and 10−5 eV respectively. A Gaussian smearing of 0.1 eV was applied for optimizations and a k-point grid with a 9 × 7 × 3 Gamma centered mesh was chosen for single V2O5 bulk structure to sample the first Brillouin zone, and the same k-mesh spacing was kept for supercells. The GGA + U method was chosen to describe partially filled 3d orbitals in V with U = 4 eV and J = 0.68 eV for Hund’s exchange interaction70. The SSW HOWTOs program was applied to search for reasonable testing structures which were used for later transition state (TS) optimization with the climbing image nudged elastic band (CI-NEB) method71. For a reaction that has multiple final states, the most stable one was selected. All the computed energies are the total electronic energies unless otherwise stated. The Gibbs free energy corrections were calculated using VASPKIT, which includes the zero-point energy (ZPE), enthalpy, and entropy contributions. For surface adsorbates, free energies were approximated using the harmonic approximation that treats all degrees of freedom as vibrational modes72. The V2O5 (001) surface (Fig. S14a) was chosen for all the studied reactions as it is the most thermodynamically stable plane exposed in crystalline V2O573.

## Data availability

The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available in the Supplementary Information and are also available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request. Source data are also provided with this paper.

## References

1. Sadykov, V. A. et al. Oxide catalysts for ammonia oxidation in nitric acid production: properties and perspectives. Appl. Catal. A 204, 59–87 (2000).

2. Schäffer, J., Kondratenko, V. A., Steinfeldt, N., Sebek, M. & Kondratenko, E. V. Highly selective ammonia oxidation to nitric oxide over supported Pt nanoparticles. J. Catal. 301, 210–216 (2013).

3. Perez-Ramirez, J. & Vigeland, B. Perovskite membranes in ammonia oxidation: towards process intensification in nitric acid manufacture. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 44, 1112–1115 (2005).

4. Hannevold, L., Nilsen, O., Kjekshus, A. & Fjellvåg, H. Reconstruction of platinum–rhodium catalysts during oxidation of ammonia. Appl. Catal. A 284, 163–176 (2005).

5. Kondratenko, E. V. & Pérez-Ramírez, J. Transient studies on the effect of oxygen on the high-temperature NO reduction by NH3 over Pt–Rh gauze. Appl. Catal. A 289, 97–103 (2005).

6. Perez-Ramirez, J. & Kondratenko, E. V. Evidences of the origin of N2O in the high-temperature NH3 oxidation over Pt-Rh gauze. Chem. Commun. 376–377 (2004).

7. Baerns, M. et al. Bridging the pressure and material gap in the catalytic ammonia oxidation: structural and catalytic properties of different platinum catalysts. J. Catal. 232, 226–238 (2005).

8. Perezramirez, J., Kondratenko, E., Novellleruth, G. & Ricart, J. Mechanism of ammonia oxidation over PGM (Pt, Pd, Rh) wires by temporal analysis of products and density functional theory. J. Catal. 261, 217–223 (2009).

9. Perezramirez, J., Kondratenko, E., Kondratenko, V. & Baerns, M. Selectivity-directing factors of ammonia oxidation over PGM gauzes in the Temporal Analysis of Products reactor: Secondary interactions of NH3 and NO. J. Catal. 229, 303–313 (2005).

10. Pérez-Ramı́rez, J., Kapteijn, F., Schöffel, K. & Moulijn, J. A. Formation and control of N2O in nitric acid production. Appl. Catal. B Environ. 44, 117–151 (2003).

11. Fung, W. K., Claeys, M. & van Steen, E. Effective utilization of the catalytically active phase: NH3 oxidation over unsupported and supported Co3O4. Catal. Lett. 142, 445–451 (2012).

12. Hou, T., Yang, H., Fan, X. & Zhang, X. Catalytic oxidation of ammonia to NO over perovskite-type LaMnO3 and LaVO4 catalysts. Catal. Lett. 141, 1215–1218 (2011).

13. Isupova, L. A. et al. Honeycomb supported perovskite catalysts for ammonia oxidation processes. Catal. Today 105, 429–435 (2005).

14. Isupova, L. A. et al. Cordierite-like mixed oxide monolith for ammonia oxidation process. Catal. Today 147, S319–S323 (2009).

15. Cao, Z. et al. An efficient oxygen activation route for improved ammonia oxidation through an oxygen-permeable catalytic membrane. ChemCatChem 6, 1190–1194 (2014).

16. Biausque, G. & Schuurman, Y. The reaction mechanism of the high temperature ammonia oxidation to nitric oxide over LaCoO3. J. Catal. 276, 306–313 (2010).

17. Fung, W.-K., Ledwaba, L., Modiba, N., Claeys, M. & van Steen, E. Choosing a suitable support for Co3O4 as an NH3 oxidation catalyst. Catal. Sci. Technol. 3, 1905 (2013).

18. Pinaeva, L. G. et al. MeOx/Al2O3 and MeOx/CeO2 (Me = Fe, Co, Ni) catalysts for high temperature N2O decomposition and NH3 oxidation. Catal. Sci. Technol. 6, 2150–2161 (2016).

19. Shojaee, K., Haynes, B. S. & Montoya, A. The role of oxygen during the catalytic oxidation of ammonia on Co3O4 (1 0 0). Appl. Surf. Sci. 316, 355–365 (2014).

20. Mishra, A. & Li, F. Chemical looping at the nanoscale — challenges and opportunities. Curr. Opin. Chem. Eng. 20, 143–150 (2018).

21. Zeng, L., Cheng, Z., Fan, J. A., Fan, L.-S. & Gong, J. Metal oxide redox chemistry for chemical looping processes. Nat. Rev. Chem. 2, 349–364 (2018).

22. Thursfield, A., Murugan, A., Franca, R. & Metcalfe, I. S. Chemical looping and oxygen permeable ceramic membranes for hydrogen production – a review. Energy Environ. Sci. 5, 7421 (2012).

23. Zhu, X., Imtiaz, Q., Donat, F., Müller, C. R. & Li, F. Chemical looping beyond combustion – a perspective. Energy Environ. Sci.13, 772–804 (2020).

24. Michalsky, R., Avram, A. M., Peterson, B. A., Pfromm, P. H. & Peterson, A. A. Chemical looping of metal nitride catalysts: low-pressure ammonia synthesis for energy storage. Chem. Sci. 6, 3965–3974 (2015).

25. Gao, W. et al. Production of ammonia via a chemical looping process based on metal imides as nitrogen carriers. Nat. Energy 3, 1067–1075 (2018).

26. Metcalfe, I. S. et al. Overcoming chemical equilibrium limitations using a thermodynamically reversible chemical reactor. Nat. Chem. 11, 638–643 (2019).

27. Liu, Y. et al. Near 100% CO selectivity in nanoscaled iron-based oxygen carriers for chemical looping methane partial oxidation. Nat. Commun. 10, 5503 (2019).

28. Yu, X. et al. Stoichiometric methane conversion to ethane using photochemical looping at ambient temperature. Nat. Energy 5, 511–519 (2020).

29. Kang, Y. et al. Improving syngas selectivity of Fe2O3/Al2O3 with yttrium modification in chemical looping methane conversion. ACS Catalysis 9, 8373–8382 (2019).

30. Rydén, M., Johansson, M., Lyngfelt, A. & Mattisson, T. NiO supported on Mg–ZrO2 as oxygen carrier for chemical-looping combustion and chemical-looping reforming. Energy Environ. Sci. 2, 970 (2009).

31. Luo, S. et al. Shale gas-to-syngas chemical looping process for stable shale gas conversion to high purity syngas with a H2: CO ratio of 2: 1. Energy Environ. Sci. 7, 4104–4117 (2014).

32. Zheng, Y. et al. Designed oxygen carriers from macroporous LaFeO3 supported CeO2 for chemical-looping reforming of methane. Appl. Catal. B. 202, 51–63 (2017).

33. Neal, L. M., Shafiefarhood, A. & Li, F. Dynamic methane partial oxidation using a Fe2O3@La0.8Sr0.2FeO3-δ core–shell redox catalyst in the absence of gaseous oxygen. ACS Catalysis 4, 3560–3569 (2014).

34. Kathe, M. et al. Utilization of CO2 as a partial substitute for methane feedstock in chemical looping methane–steam redox processes for syngas production. Energy Environ. Sci. 10, 1345–1349 (2017).

35. Serra, J. M. et al. Hydrogen production via microwave-induced water splitting at low temperature. Nat. Energy 5, 910–919 (2020).

36. Hargus, C., Michalsky, R. & Peterson, A. A. Looped-oxide catalysis: a solar thermal approach to bio-oil deoxygenation. Energy Environ. Sci. 7, 3122–3134 (2014).

37. Zhao, X. et al. Biomass-based chemical looping technologies: the good, the bad and the future. Energy Environ. Sci. 10, 1885–1910 (2017).

38. Solunke, R. D. & Veser, G. Nanocomposite oxygen carriers for chemical-looping combustion of sulfur-contaminated synthesis gas. Energy Fuels 23, 4787–4796 (2009).

39. Solunke, R. D. & Veser, G. Integrating desulfurization with CO2-capture in chemical-looping combustion. Fuel 90, 608–617 (2011).

40. Chan, M. S. C., Marek, E., Scott, S. A. & Dennis, J. S. Chemical looping epoxidation. J. Catal. 359, 1–7 (2018).

41. Neal, L. M., Haribal, V. P. & Li, F. Intensified ethylene production via chemical looping through an exergetically efficient redox scheme. iScience 19, 894–904 (2019).

42. Coulston, G. W. et al. The kinetic significance of V5+ in n-butane oxidation catalyzed by vanadium phosphates. Science 275, 191–193 (1997).

43. Kropp, T., Paier, J. & Sauer, J. Support effect in oxide catalysis: methanol oxidation on vanadia/ceria. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 136, 14616–14625 (2014).

44. Otake, K. I. et al. Single-atom-based vanadium oxide catalysts supported on metal-organic frameworks: selective alcohol oxidation and structure-activity relationship. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 140, 8652–8656 (2018).

45. Rozanska, X., Fortrie, R. & Sauer, J. Size-dependent catalytic activity of supported vanadium oxide species: oxidative dehydrogenation of propane. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 136, 7751–7761 (2014).

46. Zhu, M., Lai, J. K., Tumuluri, U., Wu, Z. & Wachs, I. E. Nature of active sites and surface intermediates during SCR of NO with NH3 by supported V2O5-WO3/TiO2 catalysts. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 139, 15624–15627 (2017).

47. Wachs, I. E. Catalysis science of supported vanadium oxide catalysts. Dalton Trans. 42, 11762–11769 (2013).

48. Carrero, C. A., Schloegl, R., Wachs, I. E. & Schomaecker, R. Critical literature review of the kinetics for the oxidative dehydrogenation of propane over well-defined supported vanadium oxide catalysts. ACS Catalysis 4, 3357–3380 (2014).

49. Al-Ghamdi, S., Volpe, M., Hossain, M. M. & de Lasa, H. VOx/c-Al2O3 catalyst for oxidative dehydrogenation of ethane to ethylene: Desorption kinetics and catalytic activity. Appl. Catal. A 450, 120–130 (2013).

50. Al-Ghamdi, S. A., Hossain, M. M. & de Lasa, H. I. Kinetic modeling of ethane oxidative dehydrogenation over VOx/Al2O3 catalyst in a fluidized-bed riser simulator. Ind. Eng. Chem. Res. 52, 5235–5244 (2013).

51. Fu, H., Liu, Z. P., Li, Z. H., Wang, W. N. & Fan, K. N. Periodic density functional theory study of propane oxidative dehydrogenation over V2O5(001) surface. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 128, 11114–11123 (2006).

52. Dai, G.-L., Li, Z.-H., Lu, J., Wang, W.-N. & Fan, K.-N. Deep oxidations in the oxidative dehydrogenation reaction of propane over V2O5(001): periodic density functional theory study. J. Phys. Chem. C 116, 807–817 (2011).

53. Decarolis, D. et al. Spatial profiling of a Pd/Al2O3 catalyst during selective ammonia oxidation. ACS Catalysis 11, 2141–2149 (2021).

54. Demeter, M., Neumann, M. & Reichelt, W. Mixed-valence vanadium oxides studied by XPS. Surf. Sci. 454, 41–44 (2000).

55. De Jesus, L. R. et al. Mapping polaronic states and lithiation gradients in individual V2O5 nanowires. Nat. Commun. 7, 12022 (2016).

56. Wong, J., Lytle, F. W., Messmer, R. P. & Maylotte, D. H. K-edge absorption spectra of selected vanadium compounds. Phys. Rev. B 30, 5596–5610 (1984).

57. Yamamoto, T. Assignment of pre-edge peaks in K-edge x-ray absorption spectra of 3d transition metal compounds: electric dipole or quadrupole? X-Ray Spectrometry 37, 572–584 (2008).

58. Olthof, B., Khodakov, A., Bell, A. T. & Iglesia, E. Effects of support composition and pretreatment conditions on the structure of vanadia dispersed on SiO2, Al2O3, TiO2, ZrO2, and HfO2. J. Phys. Chem. B 104, 1516–1528 (2000).

59. Horrocks, G. A. et al. Vanadium K-edge X-ray absorption spectroscopy as a probe of the heterogeneous lithiation of V2O5: first-principles modeling and principal component analysis. J. Phys. Chem. C 120, 23922–23932 (2016).

60. Patridge, C. J., Whittaker, L., Ravel, B. & Banerjee, S. Elucidating the influence of local structure perturbations on the metal–insulator transitions of V1–xMoxO2 nanowires: mechanistic insights from an X-ray absorption spectroscopy study. J. Phys. Chem. C 116, 3728–3736 (2012).

61. Šipr, O., Šmůnek, A., Bocharov, S., Kirchner, Th. & Dräger, G. Geometric and electronic structure effects in polarized V K-edge absorption near-edge structure spectra of V2O5. Phys. Rev. B 60, 14115–14127 (1999).

62. Baddour-Hadjean, R. & Pereira-Ramos, J. P. Raman microspectrometry applied to the study of electrode materials for lithium batteries. Chem. Rev. 110, 1278–1319 (2010).

63. Horrocks, G. A., Likely, M. F., Velazquez, J. M. & Banerjee, S. Finite size effects on the structural progression induced by lithiation of V2O5: a combined diffraction and Raman spectroscopy study. J. Mater. Chem. A 1, 15265 (2013).

64. Moncada, J., Adams, W. R., Thakur, R., Julin, M. & Carrero, C. A. Developing a raman spectrokinetic approach to gain insights into the structure–reactivity relationship of supported metal oxide catalysts. ACS Catalysis 8, 8976–8986 (2018).

65. Mars, P. & van Krevelen, D. W. Oxidations carried out by means of vanadium oxide catalysts. Chem. Eng. Sci. 3, 41–59 (1954).

66. Ma, H. et al. Kinetic modeling of dynamic changing active sites in a Mars-van Krevelen type reaction: ethylene oxychlorination on K-doped CuCl2/Al2O3. Chem. Eng. J. 407, 128013 (2021).

67. Kresse, G. & Furthmüller, J. Efficient iterative schemes for ab initio total-energy calculations using a plane-wave basis set. Phys. Rev. B 54, 11169 (1996).

68. Blöchl, P. E. Projector augmented-wave method. Phys. Rev. B 50, 17953 (1994).

69. Perdew, J. P., Burke, K. & Ernzerhof, M. Generalized gradient approximation made simple. Phys. Rev. Lett. 77, 3865 (1996).

70. Wang, X., Wang, Z., Zhang, G. & Jiang, J. Insight into electronic and structural reorganizations for defect-induced VO2 metal–insulator transition. J. Phys. Chem. Lett. 8, 3129–3132 (2017).

71. Henkelman, G., Uberuaga, B. P. & Jónsson, H. A climbing image nudged elastic band method for finding saddle points and minimum energy paths. J. Chem. Phys. 113, 9901–9904 (2000).

72. Wang, V., Xu, N., Liu, J.-C., Tang, G. & Geng, W.-T. VASPKIT: a user-friendly interface facilitating high-throughput computing and analysis using VASP code. Comput. Phys. Commun. 267, 108033 (2021).

73. Wu, N. et al. Synthesis of hierarchical sisal-like V2O5 with exposed stable {001} facets as long life cathode materials for advanced lithium-ion batteries. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 9, 43681–43687 (2017).

## Acknowledgements

This research was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (22022814, 21878283, 22178337, 21776271), the Youth Innovation Promotion Association CAS (2017223), the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDB17020100), the National Key projects for Fundamental Research and Development of China (2016YFA0202801), and the US National Science Foundation (CBET-1923468).

## Author information

Authors

### Contributions

C.R. conducted the experimental studies and wrote the paper. Xij.W. finished the DFT calculations and wrote the paper. L.L. contributed to the In situ Raman experimental design. C.W performed some XPS measurements and reactivity tests. X.L and L.Z contributed to the discussion of the XANES results. J.L participate in the discussion. Xia.W. and F.L conceived this project revised the manuscript, triggering helpful discussions. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

### Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Fanxing Li or Xiaodong Wang.

## Ethics declarations

### Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

## Peer review

### Peer review information

Nature Communications thanks the anonymous reviewers for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Peer reviewer reports are available.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

## Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Ruan, C., Wang, X., Wang, C. et al. Selective catalytic oxidation of ammonia to nitric oxide via chemical looping. Nat Commun 13, 718 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-28370-0

• Accepted:

• Published:

• DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-28370-0