Thermal instability and volume contraction in a pulsed microwave N2plasma at sub-atmospheric pressure

Seán Kelly (Corresponding author), Alex van de Steeg, Ashley Hughes, Gerard van Rooij, Annemie Bogaerts

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2 Citations (Scopus)


We studied the evolution of an isolated pulsed plasma in a vortex flow stabilised microwave (MW) discharge in N2 at 25 mbar via the combination of 0D kinetics modelling, iCCD imaging and laser scattering diagnostics. Quenching of electronically excited N2 results in fast gas heating and the onset of a thermal-ionisation instability, contracting the discharge volume. The onset of a thermal-ionisation instability driven by vibrational excitation pathways is found to facilitate significantly higher N2 conversion (i.e. dissociation to atomic N2) compared to pre-instability conditions, emphasizing the potential utility of this dynamic in future fixation applications. The instability onset is found to be instigated by super-elastic heating of the electron energy distribution tail via vibrationally excited N2. Radial contraction of the discharge to the skin depth is found to occur post instability, while the axial elongation is found to be temporarily contracted during the thermal instability onset. An increase in power reflection during the thermal instability onset eventually limits the destabilising effects of exothermic electronically excited N2 quenching. Translational and vibrational temperature reach a quasi-non-equilibrium after the discharge contraction, with translational temperatures reaching ∼1200 K at the pulse end, while vibrational temperatures are found in near equilibrium with the electron energy (1 eV, or ∼11 600 K). This first description of the importance of electronically excited N2 quenching in thermal instabilities gives an additional fundamental understanding of N2 plasma behaviour in pulsed MW context, and thereby brings the eventual implementation of this novel N2 fixation method one step closer.

Original languageEnglish
Article number055005
Number of pages18
JournalPlasma Sources Science and Technology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

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© 2021 IOP Publishing Ltd.


  • gas heating
  • Ndissociation
  • Nmicrowave plasma
  • plasma contraction
  • plasma-based Nfixation
  • pulsed microwave plasma
  • thermal-ionisation instability


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