A tetragonal molybdenum nitride (beta-Mo2N) has been prepared by temperature programmed treatment of MoO3 in flowing N-2 + H-2 and for the first time shown to catalyze the liquid phase selective hydrogenation (T = 423 K; P-H2 = 11 bar) of a series of para-substituted (-H, -OH, -O-CH3, -CH3, -Cl, -I and -NO2) nitrobenzenes to give the corresponding aromatic amine. Reaction over Pd/Al2O3, as a benchmark catalyst (Pd particle size ca. 18 nm), resulted in a composite hydrodechlorination/hydrogenation of p-chloronitrobenzene (as a representative nitroarene) to generate nitrobenzene and aniline. beta-Mo2N has been characterized in terms of temperature-programmed reduction (TPR), H-2 chemisorption/temperature programmed desorption (TPD), BET surface area/pore volume, elemental analysis, powder X-ray diffraction (XRD), X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), scanning (SEM) and transmission (TEM) electronic microscopy. Elemental analysis, XRD, SEM and TEM have confirmed the formation of tetragonal beta-Mo2N, characterized by an agglomeration of flake-like crystallites. Post-synthesis, the nitride was passivated by contact with 1% (v/v) O-2/He at ambient temperature and XPS analysis has demonstrated the formation of a superficial passivating oxide overlayer without bulk oxidation. Pre-reaction, activation by TPR to 673 K was necessary to remove the passivating film. Hydrogen TPD has revealed significant hydrogen uptake (0.7 mu mol m(-2)) associated with beta-Mo2N. Nitro group reduction kinetics have been subjected to a Hammett treatment where the reaction constant (p = 0 4) is diagnostic of an increase in rate due to the presence of electron-withdrawing substituents on the aromatic ring, consistent with a nucleophilic mechanism. The results presented in this study establish the viability of beta-Mo2N to promote selective nitroarene hydrogenation. (C) 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.