Plasma is booming in the agro and food sectorsnovember 24, 2018
The sun is made of it. A lightning bolt contains it. And a fluorescent lighting unit can’t exist without it. Plasma! Jeroen Rondeel of Blue Engineering, based at the Brightlands Campus Greenport Venlo, believes that plasma will also play an important role in the agro and food sectors.
Jeroen Rondeel is the managing director at Blue Engineering, a company specialized in the development of innovative and sustainable product, production and total systems. Based in Venlo, this company’s methods were inspired by the principle of the Blue Economy1 in which natural systems are used for sustainable production and consumption.
Plasma is a natural product that is created when a current is allowed to flow through gas. “It sounds complicated, but everyone is familiar with plasma. Take a fluorescent lighting unit that switches on for example; this is the plasma phase. A bolt of lightning is also plasma.”
This natural phenomenon also appears to possess very useful traits for the agro and food sectors: plasma is ideal as a disinfectant, but also benefits the growth, germination and healing of plants. Jeroen: “Plasma disinfects water in a mild yet thorough manner; it kills bacteria and viruses without the need for chemistry. Treating water with plasma produces nitrate, an important nutrient for plants. Water becomes a sort of artificial fertilizer, but plasma works a lot better and is environmentally friendly. When you activate water with plasma, wait two hours and you get pure, clean drinking water.”
1 The Blue Economy concept was first introduced by Gunter Pauli, former director of Ecover and member of the Club of Rome.
Until recently, plasma was rather unpredictable since it didn’t always produce the exact same response. “If you want to work with plasma, it’s important for the effect to always be the same. We have 18 bright minds working here each day, and they have developed a system that keeps the plasma stable. Thanks to this technique, the outcome is predictable, one of the criteria for using plasma. It’s pure physics and control engineering!”
Now that the technology is predictable, Jeroen sees plenty of opportunities for plasma. “We are putting a far too heavy burden on our planet. If we want to co-exist with nine billion people in the future, we will have to work together to find alternatives that don’t pollute or exhaust the (natural) environment. Plasma offers a solution, it replaces chemistry in the agro and food sectors.”
Developments are moving at a very fast pace. “The technology is inexpensive since all you need is water, air and electricity. We are working under the assumption that farmers and growers will be able to apply this plasma technology within the next two years.”
According to Jeroen, agro and food aren’t the only sectors that can benefit from the advantages plasma has to offer. “Tests have shown that plasma may also be used to reduce odor at pig farms, clean equipment, sterilize burns and break down medicine residue in water. These are areas we are going to be working on in the next few years.”
Solid, liquid and gas
Matter occurs in three states: solid, liquid and gas. The phase of a substance is the state in which a substance can occur. Take water for instance. Water in its liquid state is water. If water is solid, we call it ice. If a kettle is steaming water, we call this state water vapor. In other words, three different names for the exact same substance, water.
When you allow electricity to flow through gas, the atoms split into ions and electrodes. This is how plasma is formed, the fourth state of matter. The blue-white light we see in a lightning bolt is plasma. The sun is made up entirely of plasma and if you light a fire in your yard, this is also “made” of gas in the plasma state.