Nitrogen-doped carbon materials are synthesized via an effective, sustainable, and green one-step route based on the hydrothermal carbonization of microalgae with high nitrogen content (ca. 11 wt %). The addition of the monosaccharide glucose to the reaction mixture is found to be advantageous, enhancing the fixation of nitrogen in the synthesized carbons, resulting in materials possessing nitrogen content in excess of 7 wt %, and leading to promising reaction yields. Increasing the amount of glucose leads to a higher nitrogen retention in the carbons, which suggests co-condensation of the microalgae and glucose-derived degradation/hydrolysis products via Maillard-type cascade reactions, yielding nitrogen-containing aromatic heterocycles (e.g., pyrroles) as confirmed by several analytical techniques. Increasing the HTC processing temperature leads to a further aromatization of the chemical structure of the HTC carbon and the formation of increasingly more condensed nitrogen-containing functional motifs (i.e., pyridinic and quaternary nitrogen).
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