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Plasma efficient nitrogen fixation

Project description

A novel approach to the nitrogen fixation process

The Haber–Bosch artificial nitrogen fixation process is used to produce fertiliser at an immense scale, paving the way for industrial agriculture. As an energy-intensive chemical process, however, it emits millions of tonnes of CO2. Alternatives for delocalised fertiliser production have been sought, such as electrically powered plasma processes, but they fail to exceed Haber-Bosch efficiencies. The EU-funded PENFIX project will investigate a possible solution – the integration of pulsed power atmospheric microwave plasma for nitric oxide production using air. The project will focus on novel reactor designs and diagnostic and modelling activities.


Industrial scale nitrogen fixation (NF) via the Haber-Bosch process dominates artificial fertilizer production and at present, enables yield enhancements which nourish over 40 % of the world population. Owing to the exceptional stability of molecular nitrogen’s triple bond the Haber-Bosch process is an energy intensive chemical process which accounts for 1-2 % of the world's energy production, consumes 2-3 % of the global natural gas output and emits more than 300 million tonnes of CO2. In light of an increasing population (and fertilizer demand) coupled with an urgency to reduce CO2 emissions, efforts to find alternative technologies for NF that offer the potential of reduced energy usage while minimizing greenhouse gas emissions have accelerated. Electrically powered plasma processes are considered as a promising alternative for delocalized fertilizer production, based on renewable energy, and more specifically for NO production. To-date, however, plasma designs for NF have not exceeded Haber-Bosch efficiencies. Pulsed powered microwave (MW) generated plasma technology offers some promise in this regard. Pulsing of the discharge power enables strategies which direct energy to primarily heat electrons (’non-thermal’ conditions) providing a far more efficient pathway to molecular bond breakage (and resulting NO production) than thermal effects. Indeed, reports on pulsed powered MW discharges have indicated an opportunity to tune electron energies to maximize molecular vibrational excitation, identified as an optimal route for energy efficiency in NO production. In a novel advance, plasma efficient nitrogen fixation ’PENFIX', proposes to interrogate ’pulsed’ powered atmospheric microwave (MW) plasma for nitric oxide (NO) production using air. Novel reactor designs informed by validated modelling will be of particular focus. Diagnostic and modelling activities will elucidate the fundamental physics while addressing the challenges of future industrial scale deployment.



Net EU contribution
€ 178 320,00
Prinsstraat 13
2000 Antwerpen

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Vlaams Gewest Prov. Antwerpen Arr. Antwerpen
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00