Plasma technology, the game changing technology for circular chemistry. For everyone who can’t get enough of plasma technology or who missed the special Plasma Day… Read our eye witness report below!
November 18 was an entire day dedicated to plasma technology. With the fourth and last edition of the VoltaChem Power-2-X Tour: “Plasma technology as a game changer for the chemical industry” taking place in the morning, followed by a Brightlands Science Lecture by Prof. Niek Lopes Cardozo (Professor of Science and Technology of Nuclear Fusion at Eindhoven University of Technology) on the topic of “Nuclear fusion energy, driver of innovation — innovation, driver of fusion energy.” The day was rounded off with the official opening ceremony for the Brightsite Plasmalab.
Gerard van Rooij, Professor of Plasma Chemistry at Maastricht University and Head of the Brightsite Plasmalab:
“Plasma technology has the potential to electrify chemical processes with (green) electricity and to produce hydrogen and raw materials for the chemical industry without releasing CO₂. By combining the opportunities offered by plasma technology in the Brightsite Plasmalab with innovative state-of-the-art technologies and also conducting fundamental research, we expect to be able to make significant breakthroughs in sustainability.”
VoltaChem Power-2-X: “Plasma technology as a game changer for the chemical industry”
The Shared Innovation Program VoltaChem organized an online talkshow about plasma applications in industry. Presenter Jerre Maas, co-host Reinier van Grimbergen (Brightsite, VoltaChem) and panelists Jeff Mason (Transform Materials), Sander van Bavel (Shell) and Hans Linden (Brightsite) discussed the role that plasma technology can potentially play in accelerating the decarbonization and circularity of the chemical industry as it heads towards 2030 and even 2050.
Can electrically powered plasma technology become a game changer in the production of high-quality chemicals? This was just one of the questions discussed during the interactive talkshow. Other topics included the current state of the art of plasma technology, expected developments, possible applications in industry, associated business cases and more. “Plasma is a tool; see it as a hammer. It is a new and emerging technology that could become very important to the energy transition. Working together is crucial in order to achieve this. The new Brightsite Plasmalab involves all kinds of stakeholders — companies on and outside of the Chemelot site, the Brightlands Chemelot Campus and Maastricht University. This illustrates that further development of plasma technology and processes will requires collaboration between various stakeholders, from industry to knowledge centers and academia,” said Van Grimbergen.
Van Bavel agrees that plasma is one of the tools that can help the chemical industry move away from fossil fuel. “It is an old technology that, now that we are making such efforts to halt CO₂ emissions, has been given a new lease of life because plasma works directly with electricity. Steam crackers and ammonia plants produce a lot of CO₂, and plasma technology provides ways to make both processes more sustainable. At the same time, we must continue to look at other options,” emphasized Van Bavel. Leon Jacobs (SABIC) indicated that electrification of SABIC’s naphtha crackers at Chemelot is under consideration. “We can conserve methane by using electricity to produce heat rather than fossil fuels. We are therefore very interested in plasma technology that can convert methane into hydrogen and high-quality hydrocarbons.” Plasma chemistry can be used for different processes. “At the Brightsite Plasmalab, we are looking at different approaches and different generations of plasma technology. We are optimizing the old Huels process and expect that applying the latest insights will make it more efficient and selective than before. In addition, our more fundamental research is focusing on new end products such as ways of producing ethylene directly,” Hans Linden explained.
Brightlands Science Lecture: Nuclear fusion energy, driver of innovation – innovation, driver of fusion energy
The second part of the day was the Brightlands Science Lecture by Prof. Niek Lopes Cardozo (Professor of Science and Technology of Nuclear Fusion at TU/e). Led by Prof. Ron Heeren (Professor of Molecular Imaging at Maastricht University), a broader scientific perspective concerning nuclear fusion and the energy transition was outlined, including breakthroughs and current challenges in plasma physics.
Professor Gerard van Rooij (Professor of Plasma Chemistry at Maastricht University) started this section by explaining why plasma fits in with our strategy for a sustainable future. “Plasma technology will make it possible for electrification to replace the use of natural gas as an energy source for processes and that is the reason why it forms a very important avenue that will enable us to achieve our climate targets. Plasma is an old technology (Birkeland-Eyde nitrogen fixation) that was used industrially as early as 1908, when electricity was cheap. Later, methane became cheaper and plasma disappeared into the background. The current climate and the demand for sustainability again offers opportunities for plasma, which, thanks to its high energy density, creates reactions with high selectivity,” according to Van Rooij.
Nuclear fusion has the potential to make clean and safe energy available to everyone. However, usable nuclear energy is very difficult to attain. Lopes Cardozo discussed the main scientific and technical obstacles to functional fusion power stations. “To create a sustainable world, new technology and therefore innovation is needed. And quickly! But how quickly can we go? New technology needs to be developed and scaled up, and that takes time. That’s why we need to start with something that is already ‘big’,” Lopes Cardozo explained. This prompted him to discuss ITER, the world’s largest fusion experiment. Looking at the timelines of the project, no electricity is going to be produced by nuclear fusion before 2055. It cannot therefore contribute to the 2050 objective. “Can’t we get there any faster? Who knows, there are many initiatives now that claim to be faster and smarter. They can do that by addressing only a part of the issue and by being ready to take risks. The chance of success for each of these initiatives is not particularly high, but, taken together, they offer plenty of ideas and innovations. We should start tapping into them,” emphasized Lopes Cardozo. Finally, he focused on the innovation cycle for machines such as fusion reactors that have a high cost, a long construction time and a useful life of 50 years, and discussed what impact this cycle has on the point at which new technologies are ready to be deployed.
Official opening of Brightsite Plasmalab
The Brightsite Plasmalab is an initiative of Brightsite, Maastricht University and Brightlands Chemelot Campus. This unique lab is the place where Brightsite partners Maastricht University, TNO and Sitech Services, together with students and businesses, will optimize existing plasma technology and develop new plasma processes. Brightlands Chemelot Campus, Maastricht University and Brightsite are all very proud of the Brightsite Plasmalab.
Bert Kip (CEO Brightlands Chemelot Campus) gave a warm welcome to the guests at this campus, a thriving community where academia and industry meet. Prof. dr. Thomas Cleij (Dean Faculty of Science and Engineering Maastricht University) shared his vision on educating the circular engineers for the future. Arnold Stokking (Managing Director Brightsite) gave insights on the state of the art infrastructure for research. And then it was time for the official opening moment. Prof. dr. Gerard van Rooij (Professor Plasma Chemistry Maastricht University) shared how we built this unique plasmalab and provided with Hans Linden an online lab tour.
Bert Kip, CEO Brightlands Chemelot Campus:
“With the opening of the Brightsite Plasmalab, we take an important step toward a sustainable and circular future, bringing us closer to our goal of a circular campus. Our campus is the place where academia and industry meet. We offer an attractive physical working environment where talent from different disciplines can meet, collaborate and innovate. A place that attracts talent, knowledge institutes and businesses and where innovation and learning go hand in hand. The Brightsite Plasmalab is a great example of what that kind of collaboration can bring to fruition.”
Prof. Thomas Cleij, Dean of the Faculty of Science & Engineering, Maastricht University:
“In order to make the chemical industry’s energy transition a success, we must train the engineers and scientists of the future. After all, in addition to developing innovative technologies and encouraging their commercial application, we need a new generation of employees to put those innovations into practice. This academic year also saw the launch of the bachelor’s degree program in Circular Engineering. Students can put what they learn in the lecture hall directly into practice in their work at the Brightsite Plasmalab, where fundamental and applied research meet.”
Arnold Stokking, Managing Director of Brightsite:
“Plasma means that we can move away from natural gas and to ‘the gas that doesn’t burn’ — the plasma flame; in other words, from fossil fuel to electrical processes. We have a unique ecosystem here at the Brightlands Chemelot Campus that combines cross-organizational innovation with education. We, as the Brightsite Plasmalab, are grateful to be able to make use of this and we are focused on creating a place where the full expanse of plasma research is carried out, from technology readiness level 9 to level 1. This will lead to breakthroughs. I am grateful to all of our partners and proud that we are now able to get started.”