Nitrogen fixation by gliding arc plasma: better insight by chemical kinetics modelling

Weizong Wang, Bhaskar Patil, Stjin Heijkers, Volker Hessel, Annemie Bogaerts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

163 Citations (Scopus)


The conversion of atmospheric nitrogen into valuable compounds, that is, so-called nitrogen fixation, is gaining increased interest, owing to the essential role in the nitrogen cycle of the biosphere. Plasma technology, and more specifically gliding arc plasma, has great potential in this area, but little is known about the underlying mechanisms. Therefore, we developed a detailed chemical kinetics model for a pulsed-power gliding-arc reactor operating at atmospheric pressure for nitrogen oxide synthesis. Experiments are performed to validate the model and reasonable agreement is reached between the calculated and measured NO and NO2 yields and the corresponding energy efficiency for NOx formation for different N2/O2 ratios, indicating that the model can provide a realistic picture of the plasma chemistry. Therefore, we can use the model to investigate the reaction pathways for the formation and loss of NOx. The results indicate that vibrational excitation of N2 in the gliding arc contributes significantly to activating the N2 molecules, and leads to an energy efficient way of NOx production, compared to the thermal process. Based on the underlying chemistry, the model allows us to propose solutions on how to further improve the NOx formation by gliding arc technology. Although the energy efficiency of the gliding-arc-based nitrogen fixation process at the present stage is not comparable to the world-scale Haber–Bosch process, we believe our study helps us to come up with more realistic scenarios of entering a cutting-edge innovation in new business cases for the decentralised production of fertilisers for agriculture, in which low-temperature plasma technology might play an important role.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2145-2157
Number of pages13
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2017


  • energy efficiency
  • gliding arc
  • nitrogen fixation
  • nitrogen oxide
  • plasma chemistry
  • Models, Molecular
  • Kinetics
  • Nitrogen Fixation


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