Eco-efficiency analysis of plasma-assisted nitrogen fixation

A. Anastasopoulou, R. Keijzer, S. Butala, J. Lang, G. van Rooij, V. Hessel (Corresponding author)

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12 Citations (Scopus)


An eco-efficiency analysis has been conducted, as a sustainability performance indicator, by combining the life cycle costs (LCC) and the environmental impacts of diverse plasma-assisted ammonia and nitric acid synthesis routes, for which a detailed process design for small-scale production has been previously reported. The proposed design of the specific plasma processes involves new upstream and downstream activities, which are independent of conventional natural resources and comprise less equipment. In the context of this study, the impact of the product yield and plasma power consumption on the eco-efficiency profiles of the selected plasma processes is evaluated and benchmarked against that of the established synthesis pathways. Results show a relatively improved environmental profile of the plasma-assisted NH3 (5% NH3 yield), considering a power consumption of 17.2 g NH3 kWh-1 and energy recovery of 5%, against that of the contemporary production route. In the case of the plasma-assisted HNO3 (6% NO yield) synthesis, incorporating a power consumption of 7.77 kWh kg-1 NO and a 20% energy recovery, a better ecological footprint is displayed as compared to the conventional chemical process. Both plasma processes are characterized by higher LCC than the conventional ones, with the plasma-assisted nitric acid displaying a more competitive LCC profile. A clear contribution of the utilities (upstream and downstream equipment) to both the environmental and cost benefits is shown, and the plasma plant is the enabler of such integration. The contribution is related to both the number reduction of equipment (process simplification) and improved operation (process intensification). Given the outcomes of this study, the concept of developing modular plants incorporating the plasma technology and renewable energy sources-e.g. wind power-for synthesizing ammonia and nitric acid demonstrates promising potential and promotes a new window of opportunities for future sustainable decentralized fertilizer production; such as distributed production at the farm site, with the opportunity to react immediately to weather changes and to local conditions (soil, climate, crops, farming business model).

Original languageEnglish
Article number234001
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Physics D: Applied Physics
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2020


  • eco-efficiency
  • nitrogen fixation
  • plasma technology
  • process design


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