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Plasma-catalytic synthesis of ammonia at low temperatures and ambient pressure

Project Description

Ammonia is an important chemical feedstock for the synthesis of fertilizers. Industrially, ammonia is currently produced via the Haber-Bosch (H-B) process by reacting N2 with hydrogen (H2) over an iron-based catalyst at high pressure (150 to 300 atm) and high temperature (400o to 500 oC). The H-B process emits over 300 million metric tons of CO2 each year and is highly energy intensive, consuming 1-2% of the global primary energy supply. Due to the energy expenditure of large-scale ammonia plants, the development of small-scale ammonia processes at ambient pressure using renewable energy sources has attracted significant interest. Non-thermal plasma (NTP) offers an attractive and promising alternative to the Haber-Bosch process for the synthesis of ammonia at low temperatures and ambient pressure. In non-thermal plasmas, the gas kinetic temperature can be as low as room temperature while the mean electron temperature can be 1-10 eV, showing a unique and distinct non-equilibrium character. Highly energetic electrons and reactive species (e.g. radicals, excited atoms, molecules and ions) generated in the plasma could significantly enhance the reaction kinetics and enable thermodynamically unfavourable reactions to proceed under ambient conditions.

The objective of this project is to investigate a hybrid plasma-catalytic process for ammonia synthesis at low temperatures and ambient pressure using combined experimental and modelling approaches. A range of operating parameters (e.g. plasma power, flow rate, electrode materials, etc) and catalysts will be investigated to understand their effects on the plasma synthesis of ammonia. Emphasis will be placed to better understand the reaction mechanism by using advanced plasma diagnostics, catalyst characterisation combined with computational studies such as density function theory (DFT) modelling.

We are seeking to recruit a highly motivated student to work on this exciting and multidisciplinary project. You must possess a 1st class Undergraduate or Master degree in Chemical Engineering, Chemistry or other relevant disciplines. Research experience with heterogeneous catalysis or catalytic computational modelling is highly desirable.

This project is part of a 4 year Dual PhD degree programme between the National Tsing Hua University (NTHU) in Taiwan and the University of Liverpool in England. As Part of the NTHU-UoL Dual PhD Award students are in the unique position of being able to gain 2 PhD awards at the end of their degree from two internationally recognised world leading Universities. As well as benefiting from a rich cultural experience, Students can draw on large scale national facilities of both countries and create a worldwide network of contacts across 2 continents.

All of the projects undertaken on the Dual PhD are aimed at working towards the UN’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development. In 2015 World leaders agreed to 17 goals for a better world by 2030. These goals are aimed at ending poverty, fighting inequality and stopping climate change. This project is specifically targeted at Goal 9 – to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation.

For academic enquires please contact Dr Xin Tu () or Dr Hsin-Yi Tiffany Chen ()

For enquires on the application process or to find out more about the Dual programme please contact

When applying please ensure you Quote the supervisor & project title you wish to apply for and note ‘NTHU-UoL Dual Scholarship’ when asked for details of how plan to finance your studies.

Funding Notes

This project is a part of a 4-year dual PhD programme between National Tsing Hua University (NTHU) in Taiwan and the University of Liverpool in England. It is planned that students will spend 2 years at The University of Liverpool, followed by 2 years at NTHU.
Both the University of Liverpool and NTHU have agreed to waive the tuition fees for the duration of the project and stipend of TWD 10,000/month will be provided as a contribution to living costs (the equivalent of £280 per month when in Liverpool).


[1] J. G. Chen, R. M. Crooks, L. C. Seefeldt, K. L. Bren, et al., Science 2018, 360, 873.
[2] L. Wang, Y. H. Yi, H. C. Guo, X. Tu, ACS Catal. 2018, 8, 90.
[3] L. Wang, Y. H. Yi, C. F. Wu, H. C. Guo, X. Tu, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2017, 56, 13679.,r2090-1.php?Lang=en

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