Plasma-Arc Overview

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Plasma can be described as an electrically-charged gas where a specific amount of energy is added to separate the molecules into a collection of ions, electrons and charge-neutral gas molecules. Plasma indicates a gas volume with sufficient energy supplied (electromagnetic, electric and/or thermal) so that electrons that normally exist in specific numbers and at distinct energy level orbiting around the nucleus are freed from their orbital bonds. This plasma, with its constituents of individual molecules and electrons acts as a conductor of electricity, the resistance of which converts electrical energy to heat.

Depending on the amount of energy added, the resulting plasma can be characterized as thermal or non-thermal.

Thermal plasma heating technologies were widely developed in the early 1960’s in conjunction with space exploration and military applications programs in the United States (NASA) and the former Soviet Union. In particular, plasma torches were developed to provide an effective method to test the effectiveness and durability of heat shields required for space vehicle re-entry.

Plasma-arc systems have been widely used for destruction of hazardous wastes.

This extreme heat from this temperature breaks down wastes, forming synthesis gas (hydrogen and carbon monoxide) and a rock-like solid byproduct called slag.

The significant difference between plasma-arc systems and other thermal waste processing technologies is that the heat required for waste degradation is generated by the plasma itself and not via combustion of all or part of the waste.

PEAT’s Plasma-arc heating system consists of DC-powered graphite electrodes rather than plasma torches, typically marketed by other companies. There are a number of benefits associated with using DC-powered plasma-arc electrodes.

Minimization of capital costs as plasma-arc graphite electrodes generate plasma-arc directly with exposed anodes and cathodes without requiring an independent torch. Plasma torches are expensive and increase the capital costs associated with overall systems.

Minimization of operational costs as plasma-arc graphite electrodes require no water cooling or any externally-supplied carrier gas (i.e. argon or nitrogen). This increases the electrical to thermal conversion rates (typically seen between 75-80% in PTDR systems). Plasma torches require water cooling, carrier gases and have lower efficiencies as their power output can be as low as 50% of the power input for small torches. This means that one half of the electricity of the plasma torch is dissipated to the cooling water or efficiency of the power supply.

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