Environmental impact assessment of plasma-assisted and conventional ammonia synthesis routes

Aikaterini Anastasopoulou, Robin Keijzer, Bhaskar Patil, Jürgen Lang, Gerard van Rooij, Volker Hessel (Corresponding author)

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29 Citations (SciVal)


The importance of ammonia in the fertilizer industry has been widely acknowledged over the past decades. In view of the upcoming increase of world population and, in turn, food demand, its production rate is likely to increase exponentially. However, considering the high dependence on natural resources and the intensive emission profile of the contemporary ammonia synthesis route, as well as the rigid environmental laws being enforced at a global level, the need to develop a sustainable alternative production route becomes quite imperative. A novel approach toward the synthesis of ammonia has been realized by means of non-thermal plasma technology under ambient operating conditions. Because the given technology is still under development, carrying out a life cycle assessment (LCA) is highly recommended as a means of identifying areas of the chemical process that could be potentially improved for an enhanced environmental performance. For that purpose, in the given research study, a process design for a small-scale plasma-assisted ammonia plant is being proposed and evaluated environmentally for specific design scenarios against the conventional ammonia synthesis employing steam reforming and water electrolysis for hydrogen generation. On the basis of the LCA results, the most contributory factor to the majority of the examined life cycle impact categories for the plasma-assisted process, considering an energy efficiency of 1.9 g NH3/kWh, is the impact of the power consumption of the plasma reactor with its share ranging from 15% to 73%. On a comparative basis, the plasma process powered by hydropower has demonstrated a better overall environmental profile over the two benchmark cases for the scenarios of a 5% and 15% NH3 yield and an energy recovery of 5% applicable to all examined plasma power consumption values.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1171-1185
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Industrial Ecology
Issue number5
Early online date18 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


  • environmental impact assessment
  • Haber-Bosch process
  • plasma-assisted ammonia synthesis
  • process design
  • renewable ammonia production


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