Non-thermal plasma fixing of nitrogen into nitrate: solution for renewable electricity storage?


The rapid deployment of solar and wind technology produces significant amount of low-quality electricity that calls for a better storage or usage instead of being discarded by the grid. Instead of electrochemical CO2 reduction and/or NH3 production, here we propose that non-thermal plasma oxidation of N2 into nitrate or other valuable nitrogen containing compounds deserve more research attention because it uses free air as the reactant and avoids the solubility difficulty, and also because its energy consumption is merely 0.2 MJ/mol, even lower than the industrially very successful Haber–Bosch process (0.48 MJ/mol) for NH3 production. We advocate that researchers from the plasma community and chemistry community should work together to build energy efficient non-thermal plasma setup, identify robust, active and low-cost catalyst, and understand the catalyzing mechanism in a plasma environment.We are confident that free production of nitrate with zero CO2 emission will come true in the near future.

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This work was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 61725401) and the National Key R&D Program of China (No. 2016YFA0204000). We also thank Junye Zhang from School of Optical and Electronic Information, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, and Sai Tu from College of Chemistry and Molecular Science, Wuhan University for helpful discussions.

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Correspondence to Jiang Tang.

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Yi He is currently an undergraduate student in Department of Optical and Electronic Information, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China. Her research interests include optoelectronic devices and physical optics.

Zhengwu Chen received his B.S. degree from Huazhong university of Science and Technology in 2012 and currently works as a second-year graduate student at Wuhan National Laboratory for Optoelectronics. His researches are related to semiconductor devices and optical spectroscopy.

Zha Li received his B.S. degree in Chemistry from Fudan University and Ph.D. degree of engineering in Bio-informatics in Tokyo Institute of Technology, Tokyo, Japan, in 2013. He joined the Wuhan National Laboratory for Optoelectronics, Huazhong University of Science and Technology as a postdoctoral researcher.

Guangda Niu is an associate Professor at Wuhan National Laboratory for Optoelectronics, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China. He is working on synthesis of metal halide perovskite semiconductors and their applications in optoelectronic devices.

Jiang Tang is a full professor at Wuhan National Laboratory for Optoelectronics, Huazhong University of Science and Technology. He graduated from University of Toronto in 2010 and have received the NSFC research funds for exceptional young scholars. His current research interest is exploring new semiconductor materials for optoelectronic devices.

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He, Y., Chen, Z., Li, Z. et al. Non-thermal plasma fixing of nitrogen into nitrate: solution for renewable electricity storage?. Front. Optoelectron. 11, 92–96 (2018).

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  • energy storage
  • nitrogen fixation
  • non-thermal plasma