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Plasma technology, a step towards zero emissions of greenhouse gases

Published: 30 January 2020

The goal is to replace fossil fuels with electric drive in industrial burners, something that has the potential to reduce Sweden's carbon dioxide emissions by several million tonnes per year. A five-year research project is now underway at Luleå University of Technology.

In the project, researchers at Fluid Mechanics at Luleå University of Technology, together with RISE ETC in Piteå, will investigate how the use of plasma burners can be scaled up.


The background to the project is that, for example, in the mining, steel and cement industries today, burners are mainly run on fossil fuels - gas, coal or oil.
– These are very large ovens, for example LKAB's ovens for drying pellets. Overall, huge amounts of fossil fuels are used to power them, says Lars-Göran Westerberg, professor in the division of Fluid and Experimental Mechanics as well as manager for the project called "Plasma burner for zero emissions of greenhouse gases in the process industry".

If the use of fossil fuels could be replaced by electric power, Sweden's total carbon dioxide emissions would be radically reduced. But electric power also has its challenges.

– It's just like with the discussions about electric cars. Unless the electricity itself is green, then there will be no profit. It is important to have enough sustainably produced electricity at hand, says Lars-Göran Westerberg.

High voltage

At present, plasma technology is supposed to reduce the need for fossil fuels. Somewhat simplified, the air can be ionized with the help of a high electrical voltage, which leads to the formation of a plasma – much like a lightning strike – and a hot jet is created. In this example air is the fuel, although there are a number of other gases that can be used. The technology already exists today, but on a small scale.

– What we need to look at is how to scale this up. The burners used in the industry are huge, and today we do not have plasma burners of that size. There are many challenges to this – partly how to handle the by-products that are formed, such as nitric oxide, but also to understand how the air or gas should flow in a plasma burner for it to function optimally, says Lars-Göran Westerberg.

The project got a green light from the financier the Swedish Energy Agency in early January. This means a budget of just over SEK 6 million over the next five years. Work has already begun.
– To start with, we must recruit a suitable doctoral student, hopefully it will be done within a month. Then the real work begins, says Lars-Göran Westerberg.

Good conditions

At RISE ETC in Piteå, there are currently plasma burners that will be used in the experimental part of the project. On campus in Luleå, a computer model of the burner will be created in order to be able to do simulations that are then tested and compared with the burners on site in Piteå. Lars-Göran Westerberg believes that, in collaboration with RISE ETC, there is an almost unique combination of experience and expertise.

– It's probably that combination that got us this project and it feels incredibly positive. These are uncharted waters in a very new and hot topic, says Lars-Göran Westerberg, and continues:
– Even though we will not deliver the final solution on how all fossil-fueled burners can be replaced by electric-powered within the framework of this project, there are good conditions to make a big impression.

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