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Waite Agriculture, Food and Wine Seminar Series

Dec 6, 2018, 10:30 am - 11:30 am

Please come along to this campus-wide seminar series. One week we will hear from a group leader or a visitor to the campus and the following week from two ECR/MCRs from the Waite Future Leaders cohort. Come and hear about great science going on across the campus, up the road or across the sea! Expand your network and find new collaborators!

Everyone is welcome to a shared morning tea (please bring your own coffee cup) following the seminar.

WHEN: Thursday 6th December. 10:30am Seminar, 11:15am morning tea
WHERE: Plant Genomics Centre Seminar Room
SPEAKER:  Professor Volker Hessel, Deputy Dean – Research | Faculty of Engineering, Computer & Math Sciences
TITLE: Plasma-based N-fixation: revisit of a 115-year old industrial fertiliser process for transformation to modern horticulture


‘Chemergy’ stands for the electrification of the chemical industry through sustainable energy sources, as promoted in several European roadmaps and by a German parliament commission – “Circular economy: electrons in the chemical industry/electrification” [in: Dutch 2015 Technology Roadmap “Making Sustainable Chemical Products”]. Besides electrochemistry, plasma processing is one major means of electrified chemistry. Plasma is considered to be the fourth matter of state and is characterized by the presence of high-energy electrons, ions and irradiation. It is thus particularly suited for chemical manufacture of unreactive molecules, which otherwise would need high-temperature processes.

Along these lines, the plasma-enabled chemical processing has been applied for nitrogen fixation using air (N2) to manufacture NO/NO2 which can be further converted to yield nitric acid by absorption in aqueous solution. In a similar way, nitrogen and hydrogen can be reacted by plasma catalysis to give ammonia. In this way, fertilisers such as ammonium nitrate and other nitrates can be made “out of air”. In the past, plasmas were consuming a prohibitively high amount of energy, however. Today’s low-temperature plasmas and improved plasma reactors come closer to the target of energy-efficiency from a commercial perspective.

Green energy is another asset needed to operate a fertiliser plasma plant in a cost- and environmental competitive manner. Thus, the fertiliser is made virtually “from wind”. While a large-scale industrial production is out of reach currently, containerized mobile production platform at the site of agricultural use provides a business case, tested recently by industry. Due to the capacity and size of such fertiliser plant, it seems logical to combine it with precision agriculture such as intensified horticulture, hydroponics, or vertical farming. Finally, sensing, artificial intelligence and robotics might add information which can make use of the potential of the fertiliser plant to provide flexibility in terms of output and fertiliser mix – the individualized whole farm.

The latter is realized in an EU-African project. The aim is to combine smart ICT concepts with plasma-fertiliser containers to support AgTech exploitation of stranded farm lands on the African continent which will triple in size within the next 10 years. The ‘Plasma Agriculture’ opens the door to ‘Fertilizing with the Wind’ (Evonik Industries, 2016) in ‘Plants on Wheels’ (coined also by Evonik).

The sustainability of the new way of chemical processing is monitored by cost analysis (OPEX/CAPEX/cash flow) and life-cycle assessment; comparing container-scale versus full industrial scale of the state of the art.


Seminar room, Plant Genomics Centre
Hartley Grove
Urrbrae, SA 5064 Australia
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