WO2014036155A1 - Material processor with plasma generator - Google Patents

Material processor with plasma generator Download PDF

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Publication number
WO2014036155A1
WO2014036155A1 PCT/US2013/057111 US2013057111W WO2014036155A1 WO 2014036155 A1 WO2014036155 A1 WO 2014036155A1 US 2013057111 W US2013057111 W US 2013057111W WO 2014036155 A1 WO2014036155 A1 WO 2014036155A1
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WO
WIPO (PCT)
Prior art keywords
plasma
electrode
power supply
source material
material
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PCT/US2013/057111
Other languages
French (fr)
Inventor
Jack HUNT
Mark L. MAKI
Original Assignee
Jh Quantum Tehcnology, Inc.
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Priority to US201261694231P priority Critical
Priority to US61/694,231 priority
Application filed by Jh Quantum Tehcnology, Inc. filed Critical Jh Quantum Tehcnology, Inc.
Publication of WO2014036155A1 publication Critical patent/WO2014036155A1/en

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Classifications

    • HELECTRICITY
    • H05ELECTRIC TECHNIQUES NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • H05HPLASMA TECHNIQUE; PRODUCTION OF ACCELERATED ELECTRICALLY-CHARGED PARTICLES OR OF NEUTRONS; PRODUCTION OR ACCELERATION OF NEUTRAL MOLECULAR OR ATOMIC BEAMS
    • H05H1/00Generating plasma; Handling plasma
    • H05H1/24Generating plasma
    • H05H1/26Plasma torches
    • H05H1/32Plasma torches using an arc
    • H05H1/42Plasma torches using an arc with provisions for introducing materials into the plasma, e.g. powder, liquid

Abstract

A material processing system includes a processor head (14) which generates a sheet-like plasma field (15) within the interior thereof. A material feeder (16) is included which receives a source material (17) from a material handling unit (18) that supplies the source material (17) at a predetermined feed rate into the material feeder (16), which in turn feeds the source material (17) through a plasma feeder (assembly 19) into the plasma field (15). The plasma field (15) is formed with an adequate energy level governed by the power supply (12) and control system II such that the individual particles of the source material (17) are broken down or dissociated to a molecular and/or elemental level.

Description

MATERIAL PROCESSOR WITH PLASMA GENERATOR

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

[0001] The invention relates to a material processing system for processing source materials having various elements captured within distinct particles, and more particularly, relates to a material processing system which includes a high energy plasma processor for partially or completely disassociating elements present within the source particles.

DESCRIPTION OF RELATED ART

[0002] Plasmas have long been the subject of research and investigation and continue to be the focus of many academic and industrial studies. However, while plasma is understood to be the most common form of matter in the universe, its use as a technology with widespread industrial applicability has been limited.

[0003] The use of plasmas in industry has traditionally been limited by various practical considerations. Plasmas are generally accompanied by thermal pressure gradients. Because many plasmas operate with high energy, the air comprising the plasma becomes hot and expands. Thus, an increase in plasma energy may be accompanied by an increase in plasma volume.

[0004] Plasmas have also typically required great amounts of power for their operation. Because of the high energies typically associated with plasma use, large power supplies have been required to operate plasmas.

[0005] While some plasmas have been used in an effort to process materials and access elements trapped within particles, the effective area of such plasmas, such as in plasma torches, is limited, which impedes the ability to use such plasmas in commercial production.

[0006] The invention relates to an improved, high energy, wide-area plasma having high effective energy levels which invention overcomes disadvantages associated with the prior art.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0007] As background for the understanding of the present invention and the underlying principals associated with the plasma system, Figures l-4b illustrate a plasma generator which generates a plasma in a dense plasma sheet over a defined area. This invention is disclosed in greater detail in US Patent Application Serial No. 1 1/330, 297, which is incorporated herein in its entirety by reference.

[0008| According to this embodiment of a plasma generator, a system for generating a plasma may include a first electrode; a second electrode disposed adjacent the first electrode; a first power supply for supplying power at the second electrode; a second power supply for generating a magnetic field; and a sequencer for coordinating a discharge of power from the first power supply and a discharge of power from the second power supply. The first power supply may be configured such that the discharge of power from the first power supply generates a plasma between the first electrode and the second electrode. The second power supply may be configured such that the magnetic field generated by the discharge of power from the second power supply rotates the plasma.

[0009] The sequencer may trigger the first power supply and the second power supply such that a peak output of the first power supply occurs at substantially the same time as a peak output of the second power supply. Also, the sequencer may trigger the first power supply and the second power supply such that a peak output of the first power supply occurs within approximately one millisecond of a peak output of the second power supply. The system may further include an impedance circuit disposed between the first power supply and the second electrode. The impedance circuit may match an impedance of the first power supply to an impedance of the second electrode and a gap between the first electrode and the second electrode. If desired, the first power supply may include a third power supply and a fourth power supply. The third power supply may supply a voltage and the fourth power supply may supply a current

[00101 The second electrode may be disposed within a boundary of the first electrode. The first electrode may be configured as a loop or ring. The first power supply may be connected to a first side of the impedance circuit and the second electrode may be connected to a second side of the impedance circuit. The system may further include a ring magnet and windings surrounding the ring magnet. The second power supply may discharge power into the windings. The system may further include a detection device which may activate the sequencer and initiate a modulation of the first power supply.

[0011] According to an embodiment of this plasma generator, a method for generating a plasma may include providing a first electrode; providing a second electrode disposed adjacent the first electrode; supplying power to the second electrode with a first power supply; generating a magnetic field with a second power supply; and coordinating a discharge of power from the first power supply and a discharge of power from the second power supply. The discharge of power from the first power supply may generate a plasma between the first electrode and the second electrode. The magnetic field resulting from the discharge of power from the second power supply may rotate the plasma.

[0012] The step of coordinating may include causing a peak output of the first power supply to occur at substantially the same time as a peak output of the second power supply. The step of coordinating may include causing the peak output of the first power supply to occur within approximately one millisecond of the peak output of the second power supply. The method may further include disposing an impedance circuit between the first power supply and the second electrode. The impedance circuit may match an impedance of the first power supply to an impedance of the second electrode and a gap between the first electrode and the second electrode.

|0013] Providing a second electrode may include disposing the second electrode within a boundary of the first electrode. The first electrode may be configured as a loop. This plasma field and the shape and physical characteristics thereof may be varied and specifically designed by varying the physical structure of first and second electrodes as well as the structure of the magnet unit and the electromagnetic field generated thereby.

[0014] More particularly as to Figures 1 -4b, Fig. 1 shows a system for plasma generation 10. The system 10 shown in Fig. 1 includes, but is not limited to, a first electrode 12, a second electrode 14, a deflection field power supply 20, a current power supply 16, an initiator supply 18 and a sequencer 24. The system 10 of Fig. 1 may also include a voltage power supply 26 and an impedance matching network 22.

|0015| In the embodiment of the invention shown in Fig. 1, the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14 may be configured in a variety of ways. For example, the first electrode 12 maybe a positive electrode in the form of a loop or annular ring while the second electrode 14 may be a negative electrode disposed in the center of the first electrode 12. However, the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 1 may be placed in any configuration that facilitates a discharge of power and the forming of a plasma between the first electrode and the second electrode.

[0016] The first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14 may be fabricated from a variety of materials. For example, the first electrode 12 may be made from copper while the second electrode 14 may be made from tungsten. However, the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14 may be fabricated from any electrically conductive material.

[0017] One or more power supplies may be connected to the electrodes. For example, in the system 10 shown in Fig. 1, a current power supply 16 and an initiator supply 18 are connected to the second electrode 14. Although the plasma generator shown in Fig. 1 includes two power supplies, i.e., the current power supply 16 and the initiator supply 18, to provide power at the second electrode 14, embodiments of the invention may use one or more power supplies to provide power to the second electrode 14. For example, a single power supply may be used to provide voltage and current to the second electrode 14. In alternative plasma generators, one power supply may be used to provide voltage to the second electrode 14 while a plurality of power supplies may be used to provide current to a second electrode 14. In other alternative plasma generators, a plurality of power supplies may be used to provide a voltage to the second electrode 14 while a single power supply may be used to supply current to the second electrode 14. |0018] The current power supply 16 and the initiator supply 18 may be chosen to provide sufficient power to cause a discharge of power and formation of a plasma between the second electrode 14 and the first electrode 12. For example, the current power supply 16 and the initiator supply 18 may be chosen such that current travels from the second electrode 14 to the first electrode 12, generating a plasma 28 (represented in Fig. 1 by an arrow showing the direction of plasma current flow) in the space between the second electrode 14 and the first electrode 12. The power supply or supplies used to provide power to the second electrode 14 and generate the plasma 28 may be any of a variety of power supply types. For example, the power supply or power supplies may be an AC supply, a DC supply, a pulsed DC supply, a linear supply, a switching supply or the like.

(00191 The current power supply 16 maybe a 450 volt DC power supply capable of sourcing 30 amps. The initiator supply 18 may be a 45 kilovolt DC power supply. The initiator supply 18 may be configured as a Marx bank or other type of network capable of generating a high voltage. The initiator supply 18 may also be configured to source sufficient current, such as 30 amps, for example.

[00201 The deflection field power supply 20 may be used to supply power for generating a magnetic field that rotates the plasma 28 about the circumference of the first electrode 12. The deflection field power supply 20 may be an AC supply, a DC supply, a pulsed DC supply, a linear supply, a switching supply or the like. According to an embodiment of the present invention, the deflection field power supply 20 may be a 900 volt DC power supply capable of sourcing 1 amp.

[0021] The deflection field power supply 20 may supply power to a variety of electrical configurations to generate a magnetic field. For example, Fig. 2a shows a side view of an electromagnetic field (EMF) generator 11 that may be powered by the deflection field power supply 20 according to an embodiment of the present invention. In Fig. 2a, an electromagnet core 32, which may be a solid core, for example, is wound with windings 34 which may be connected to the deflection field power supply 20. When the windings 34 are energized by the deflection field power supply 20, a magnetic field is produced that generates a force which acts on the plasma 28 existing between the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14. An insulator 30, such as a mica insulator, for example, may be disposed between the electromagnet core 32 and the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14. The first electrode 12 may be attached to the insulator 30 using one or more connectors 13. According to an embodiment of the present invention, the first electrode 12 is attached to the insulator 30 with four, evenly spaced connectors 13 that facilitate balancing the inductance of the first electrode 12. (0022] Fig. 2b shows a force diagram associated with the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14 when a plasma is simultaneously generated with a magnetic field. In Fig. 2b, the plasma 28 has been induced in the air gap between the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14 by appropriately powering the current power supply 16 and the initiator supply 18, as will be explained in greater detail below. The first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14 are shielded from the electromagnet formed by core 32 and windings 34 by the insulator 30. Energizing the electromagnet 32 and 34 causes a Lorentz force 36 (represented in Fig. 2b by an arrow showing the direction of plasma movement) to act upon the plasma 28. Thus, the plasma 28 will rotate in the direction of the force 36. In the embodiment of the invention shown in Fig. 2b, the plasma, i.e., "the charged air," acts as a rotor. As can be seen in Fig. 2a, the plasma 28 forms a "dome" over the electromagnetic field generator 1 1.

[0023] Fig. 3a shows a side view of an electromagnetic field generator 11 that may be powered by the deflection field power supply 20 according to another embodiment of the present invention. In Fig. 3a, a ring magnet 42 is wound with windings 40 which may be connected to the deflection field power supply 20. The ring magnet 42 may be any of a variety of magnet types and may be configured as a simple dipole magnet.

[0024] When the windings 40 are energized by the deflection field power supply 20, a magnetic field is produced that produces a force which acts on the plasma 28 existing between the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14. In the embodiment of the invention shown in Fig. 3a, the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14 may be disposed within the interior of the ring magnet 42.

[0025] Fig. 3b shows a force diagram associated with the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14 when a plasma is simultaneously generated with a magnetic field. In Fig. 3b, the plasma 28 has been induced in the air between the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14 by appropriately powering the current power supply 16 and the initiator supply 18, as will be explained in greater detail below. Energizing the windings 40 of the ring magnet 42 causes a Lorentz force 36 to act upon the plasma 28. Due to the high current levels in the plasma 28, the plasma may be accelerated rapidly, resulting in a "sheet" of plasma. Also, due to the effects of angular momentum and inertial confinement, rotating charged particles may be locked in an orbital path around the second electrode 14. The velocity of the particles, coupled with magnetic pressure gradients and magnetic, or reverse- field, "pinch" effects, associated with the magnetic field generated by the deflection field power supply 20 act to form a plasma boundary which prevents charged particles from escaping the boundary of the plasma.

[00261 In operation, a flux generated by the ring magnet 42 may be aligned with the current discharge of the current power supply 16 while a magnetic field rise and fall time generated by the ring magnet 42 may be synchronized with the same current discharge of the current power supply 16 so that saturation of the core of the ring magnet 42 coincides with population inversion of the plasma 28. During population inversion of the plasma 28, typically over one-half of the atoms in the gas existing between the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14 may be charged or ionized. Because ionized particles will interact with the magnetic field generated by the deflection field power supply 20 and the ring magnet 42, it is desirable that as many atoms as possible in the gas existing between the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14 become charged.

[0027] Also, the charged or ionized atoms exhibit a "mctastablc" lifetime, i.e., a time during which a charged atom will retain its charge before losing its charge by emitting a photon or other means. Accordingly, in order to maximize charging of the atoms in the gas between the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14, it may be desirable that as many atoms as possible in the gas between the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14 become charged or ionized (population inversion) before the mctastablc lifetime is reached by the first atoms to become charged. To achieve this result, energy sufficient to cause population inversion may be imparted to the plasma 28 in a relatively short period of time. For example, according to an embodiment of the present invention, energy may be imparted to the plasma 28 from the various power supplies in about 1 millisecond. Doing so may permit maximum deflection of the plasma 28 by the magnetic field generated by the deflection field power supply 20 and the ring magnet 42 and allow for maximum acceleration of the charged particles making up the plasma 28. Upon achieving critical acceleration, charged particles pass an inertial confinement threshold at the moment of maximum magnetic pinch, confining the plasma in all axes simultaneously, producing a flat circular plasma sheet with a force vector concentrated in a radial direction.

[0028| Returning back to Fig. 1, the sequencer 24 may be used to coordinate the timing of the current power supply 16, the initiator supply 18 and the deflection field power supply 20 so that ionic saturation of the plasma 28 coincides with magnetic field saturation and flux alignment. For example, the sequencer 24 may be used to provide timing signals to each of the power supplies in the system 10 so that the plasma 28 is effectively induced between the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14 and is caused to rotate about the circumference of the first electrode 12 in response to the magnetic field generated by the deflection field power supply 20 and the ring magnet 42. The sequencer 24 may include discrete devices or may include a microcontroller, microprocessor and the like or may include a combination of discrete devices and microcontrollers to generate the timing signals that coordinate the discharge of power from the current power supply 16, the initiator supply 18 and the deflection field power supply 20. For example, according to an embodiment of the present invention, the sequencer 24 may include a plurality of monostable multivibrators (i.e., one- shots) configured in a manner to appropriately sequence the discharge of power from the current power supply 16, the initiator supply 18 and the deflection field power supply 20. According to another embodiment of the present invention, the sequencer 24 may include a self-contained microcontroller programmed to appropriately sequence the discharge of power from the current power supply 16, the initiator supply 18 and the deflection field power supply 20.

[0029] Fig.4a shows a timing relationship between the output SO of the deflection field power supply 20 and the output 52 of the initiator supply 18. According to an embodiment of the present invention, a trigger pulse maintains a plasma conduit between the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14 until the current power supply 16 fully discharges into the circuit that includes the second electrode 14 and the air or other gaseous gap between the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14. As can be seen in Fig. 4a, according to an embodiment of the present invention, the peak output 52 of the initiator supply 18 occurs within about a one millisecond window of the peak output 50 (corresponding to full width- half maximum (FWHM) of the peak output 50) of the deflection field power supply 20. Similarly, in Fig. 4b, the peak output 52 of the initiator supply 18 occurs within about a one millisecond window of the peak output 54 of the current power supply 16. By sequencing the initiator supply 18, the current power supply 16 and the deflection field power supply 20 with the proper timing, population inversion and ionic saturation of the plasma 28 coincides with saturation of the magnetic field and the alignment of the flux generated by the deflection field power supply 20 and the ring magnet 42.

[0030] Referring back to Fig. 1, the voltage power supply 26 may be used to charge the initiator supply 18. For example, the voltage power supply 26 may be a 9000 volt power supply. In applications where the peak voltage output of the initiator supply 18 is such that generation of the requisite voltage at the second electrode 14 with the proper timing and sufficient efficiency is difficult with a single supply, the voltage power supply 26 may be used to "prc-charge" the initiator supply 18. According to an embodiment of the present invention, the initiator supply 18 may include a bank of one hundred 450V capacitors, such as electrolytic capacitors, for example, organized as five banks of twenty capacitors. The voltage power supply 26 may charge each bank to 9000V for a total of 45kV which can then be discharged in series using high speed switches or the like when triggered by the sequencer 24.

100311 Thus, according to an embodiment of the present invention, the initiator supply 18 may supply high voltage, low current power to the second electrode 14 while the current power supply 16 may supply low voltage, high current power to the second electrode 14. The low voltage, high current power supplied by the current power supply 16 may be triggered by the initiator supply 18, which itself may be charged by the voltage power supply 28. When the initiator supply 18 generates a trigger pulse, a plasma may be formed between the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14, creating a low resistance discharge path for the current power supply 16.

[0032| Fig. 5 shows a schematic diagram of the impedance matching network 22 according to an embodiment of the present invention. An impedance matching network may be desirable in order to maximize the transfer of power from the current power supply 16 to the circuit made up of the second electrode 14 and the gap between the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14, thus facilitating the coincidence of population inversion and ionic saturation of the plasma 28 with saturation of the magnetic field and the alignment of the flux generated by the deflection field power supply 20 and the ring magnet 42. The impedance matching network 22 may include a parallel connection of diode 60-resistor 64 and resistor 62 elements.

[0033] For example, nine sections of the diode 60-rcsistor 64 and resistor 62 network may be connected in parallel. The impedance matching network 22 may facilitate an efficient discharge of current from the current power supply 16 to a circuit made up of the second electrode 14 and the gap between the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14. The diodes 60 may be chosen for high reverse voltage characteristics. For example, according to an embodiment of the present invention, the diodes 60 may be high voltage diodes capable of withstanding reverse voltages up to or exceeding 45 V and also capable of withstanding surge currents of up to 200 amps and more for periods of more than 8 milliseconds.

Similarly, the resistors 62 may be chosen for high power handling capabilities and matching of the impedance of the second electrode and the air gap or other gaseous gap between the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14. Also, according to an embodiment of the present invention, the resistors 62 may have a value of 0.005 ohms. Also, according to an embodiment of the present invention, the resistors 64 may have a value of 44 Mohms.

Additional impedance matching elements may be connected in series or in parallel with the diode 60-resistor 64 and resistor 62 network and chosen to match the impedance of the second electrode and the air gap or other gaseous gap between the first electrode 12 and the second electrode 14 making up the path for the flow of plasma 28 current.

[0034] In the method for initiating a plasma 28 and plasma 28 field, a switching event is received. Thereafter, a sequencing signal is generated for the deflection field power supply 20. The sequencing signal may be a pulse from the sequencer 24. Subsequent to generation of the sequencing signal for the deflection field power supply 20, a sequencing signal is generated for the initiator supply 18. As was the case for the deflection field power supply 20, the sequencing signal for the initiator supply 18 may be a pulse from the sequencer 24. As was explained in connection with Fig. 4a and Fig. 4b, the sequencing signals are generated such that peak outputs of the power supplies occur at substantially the same time. Also, a modulation signal may be generated for the current power supply 16.

(00351 Based on the above discussion, this plasma generator generates a wall or sheet of plasma. Unlike previous methods of plasma confinement which require the plasma to be enclosed within a physical structure, this plasma generator is able to generate and confine plasma into a stabile, free-standing "wall" that can be projected out onto an area that is not enclosed by a physical structure and has a shape that may be shaped as desired. As already disclosed, the underlying principle is the generation and projection of plasma that is elcctromagnetically confined and shaped to form a free-standing wall or sheet.

[0036] As further background, plasma is typically considered the fourth state of matter, the other three being solids, liquids and gas. By definition, plasma is a distinct state of matter containing a significant number of electrically charged particles that affect both the electrical properties and behavior of the matter.

(0037) A typical gas is comprised of molecules, which in turn are comprised of atoms containing positive charges in the nucleus which are surrounded by an equal number of negatively charged electrons. As a result of the equal number of positive and negative charges, each atom is electrically neutral. A gas becomes plasma when the addition of energy, such as heat, first causes the gas molecules to disassociate or break into atoms. Continued addition of energy subsequently ionizes the atoms, causing them to release some or all of their electrons. The remaining parts of the atoms are left with a positive charge, while the detached negative electrons arc free to move about. When enough atoms arc ionized to significantly affect the electrical characteristics of the gas, it becomes a plasma.

[0038] Due to its unique properties, plasma is frequently used in industrial applications (e.g. plasma torch for cutting and welding) as well as scientific research (e.g. the study of nuclear fusion). However, regardless of the application or setting, a key factor in the use of plasma is the ability to confine and control it.

[0039] Unlike prior devices and methods for confining plasma, this plasma generator does not need to generate and confine plasma within a sealed container. Instead, this plasma generator elcctromagnetically confines plasma in such a manner as to form a free-standing plasma wall or sheet that can be projected over an area.

[0040] Beyond three-dimensional shapes, this system of plasma generation is also capable of generating a two-dimensional sheet of plasma. Specifically, a stabile wall of plasma can be electromagnetically confined to form a flat or planar, disc-shaped plasma sheet. Such a shaped plasma field can be achieved by the combined effects of an appropriately shaped external electromagnetic field with, for example, the placement of the two electrodes 12 and 14 within the same plane so that a particle/plasma beam either projects from side to side or radially outward. The resultant disc-shaped plasma sheet could be projected across a defined opening or entrance to function as a barrier. Possible uses for a "flat" plasma-based barrier arc numerous, and include, for example, a plasma-based "door" or "window" that could quickly be projected into place in order to secure a room or corridor from the passage of physical objects as well as atmospheric containment.

[0041] The present invention relates to an improved system for material processing using a high energy plasma to break down or disassociate source particles and materials into their molecular and/or elemental components. The system provides a system and method for the recovery of valuable metals and non-metals therefrom.

|0042] A material processing system of the present invention includes a control system which a processor head which generates a sheet-like plasma field within the interior thereof. A material feeder is included which receives a source material from a material handling unit that supplies the source material at a predetermined feed rate into the material feeder, which in turn feeds the source material through a plasma feeder assembly into the plasma field. The plasma field is formed with an adequate energy level governed by the power supply and control system such that the individual particles of the source material are broken down or dissociated to a reduced molecular and/or elemental level. While the elements may remain combined as elements or compounds after processing, the elements may also be discharged as free atoms or molecules of an individual that can then be recovered. After processing of the source material by the plasma field, the processed material exits the processor head for subsequent collection and then separation of the molecular or elemental components present in the processed material.

[0043] In this regard, the source material typically would include larger component particles which solidly bind individual molecules and/or atomic elements therein. In this regard, the bound molecules and atoms may be valuable metals or other non-metals which have commercial value. In many cases, conventional separation methods may encounter significant difficulties in breaking down the component particles that form the source materials and as such, there may be molecular components and elemental components that arc bound by or trapped within the component particles that arc not accessible or at least easily accessed by conventional methods of separating the molecular components or elemental components from their source material. The plasma field of the present invention, however, subjects the source material and its component particles to high plasma energies which effectively break down or disassociate the molecules and elements present therein and frees at least a portion of such molecules and/or elements for subsequent separation and commercial recovery of these elemental components that can be present within but still not recoverable from the source material.

[0044] In more detail, the processed material may exit or be discharged from the process or head in different forms and combinations of solids and/or gases which discharge materials can vary depending upon the field strength and geometry, plasma energies imparted to the source material during processing by the plasma field and the reaction atmosphere within the plasma head. For example, the reaction atmosphere can be an oxygenated atmosphere having different concentrations of oxygen or can be another non-oxygenated atmosphere comprising other gases which can react with the source material elements and components thereof. By selectively controlling the atmospheric conditions in the processor head at the plasma interface, the nature of the chemical reactions within the plasma field may be controlled to control the form of the processed materials being discharged.

[0045] This system therefore allows for the breaking down of particles which withstand conventional techniques for recovery, and allows for the increased recovery of metals and/or non-metals therefrom.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0046] A detailed description of embodiments of the invention will be made with reference to the accompanying drawings, wherein like numerals designate corresponding parts in the several figures.

[0047] Figure 1 shows a system for plasma generation.

[0048] Figure 2a shows a side view of an electromagnetic field generator.

[0049] Figure 2b shows a force diagram according to this embodiment.

[0050] Figure 3a shows a side view of an electromagnetic field generator.

[0051] Figure 3b shows a force diagram.

[0052] Figure 4a shows a timing relationship between power supplies according to an embodiment of this plasma generator.

[0053] Figure 4b shows a further timing relationship between power supplies.

[0054] Figure 5 shows an impedance matching network.

[0055] Figure 6 shows a material processing system of the present invention including a processor head with a plasma generator therein.

[0056] Figure 7 is a circuit diagram of the power supply for the material processing system and the processor head thereof.

[0057] Figure 8 is an enlarged first side view of the processor head.

(0058] Figure 9 is an enlarged second side view of the processor head.

[0059] Figures 10-14 illustrate further views of the processor head.

[0060] Figure IS is an enlarged top view. [0061] Certain terminology will be used in the following description for convenience and reference only, and will not be limiting. For example, the words "upwardly", "downwardly", "rightwardly" and "leftwardly" will refer to directions in the drawings to which reference is made. The words "inwardly" and "outwardly" will refer to directions toward and away from, respectively, the geometric center of the arrangement and designated parts thereof. Said terminology will include the words specifically mentioned, derivatives thereof, and words of similar import.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[0062] Referring to Figure 6, a material processing system 10 of the present invention is shown which includes a control system 1 1 which includes a power supply 12 as a part thereof. The system 10 further includes a processor head 14 which generates a sheet-like plasma field IS within the interior thereof. A material feeder 16 is included which receives a source material 17 from a material handling unit 18 that supplies the source material 17 at a predetermined feed rate into the material feeder 16, which in turn feeds the source material 17 through a plasma feeder assembly 19 into the plasma field IS. The plasma field IS is formed with an adequate energy level governed by the power supply 12 and control system 11 such that the individual particles of the source material 17 are broken down or dissociated to a reduced molecular and/or elemental level. After processing of the source material 17 by the plasma field IS, the processed material 20 exits the processor head 14 for subsequent collection and then separation of the molecular or elemental components present in the processed material.

[0063) In this regard, the source material 17 typically would include larger component particles which solidly bind individual molecules and or atomic elements therein. In many cases, conventional separation methods may encounter significant difficulties in breaking down the component particles that form the source materials 17 and as such, there may be molecular components and elemental components that are bound by or trapped within the component particles that are not accessible or at least easily accessed by conventional methods of separating the molecular components or elemental components from their source material. The plasma field IS of the present invention, however, subjects the source material 17 and its component particles to high plasma energies which effectively break down or disassociate the molecules and elements present therein and frees at least a portion of such molecules and/or elements for subsequent separation and commercial recovery of these elemental components that can be present within but still not recoverable from the source material. [0064] As to Figure 6, the processed material 20 may exit or be discharged from the process or head 14 in different forms and combinations of solids and/or gases which discharge materials can vary depending upon the field strength and geometry, plasma energies imparted to the source material 17 during processing by the plasma field 15 and the reaction atmosphere within the plasma head 14. For example, the reaction atmosphere can be an oxygenated atmosphere having different concentrations of oxygen or can be another non- oxygenated atmosphere comprising other gases which can react with the source material elements and components thereof.

[0065| In the example of Figure 6, the material processing system 10 includes a collector system 25 which may include a solids collector 26 that receives heavy solids therein. The heavier solids 27 generated by processing of some source materials can primarily compose heavy materials, such as iron, nickel or other elements, that form a slag formed of larger particles and clusters that drop from the processor head 14. The solids 27 can simply be collected by gravity drop into an open topped container which defines the solids collector 26 and then discharged as waste or tailings, or as low grade material 26A that is processed to remove any recoverable metals or non-metals therefrom. Depending upon the specific type of source material 20 and the properties of the plasma field 15, solids 27 may be formed, may be minimal or may be substantially non-existent.

[0066] Additionally, the processed material 20 may also comprise light materials 28, wherein the collector system 25 includes a collector or draw pipe 29 which draws in the light materials 28, preferably through a suction flow generated by a vacuum or the like. The collector pipe 29 may extend to a first stage materials collector 30 which preferably may be a gravity type separator such as a centrifugal cyclone separator or other similar apparatus which separates out heavier particles in a first collection stream 31 of processed material. Depending upon the amount of desirable component elements or molecules present in this first collection stream 31 , this stream 31 may then be processed and desirable materials, such as metals, separated from other other metals or non-metal compounds through conventional solids processing techniques such as refining and smelting.

[0067] The suction flow may then continue from the first stage separator 30 to a second stage materials collector 32 through an intermediate collection pipe 33 which feeds the separator 32. The second stage collector 32 may be a filter which further separates and collects additional material from the suction flow which then is pulled from the filter and discharged through a second collection stream 33. Here again, depending upon the amount of desirable component elements or molecules present in this second collection stream 33, this stream 33 may then be processed and desirable materials, such as valuable metals and compounds, separated through conventional solids processing techniques such as refining and smelting. [00681 Downstream from this second stage collector 32, the collector flow then continues through a feed pipe 34 to a third stage collector 35. Since the first and/or second stage collectors 31 and 32 primarily collects heavier dust-like particles, the collector flow at this point is primarily a gaseous mixture which may include small air-borne molecules or atomic elements such as free atoms. In one form, the third stage collector 35 may be a water-based collector, such as a bubbler, through which the gaseous collector flow passes. The third stage collector 35 preferably removes all or substantially all of the collectable molecules and elements, which may be valuable metals and non-metal compounds, from the collector flow which can then be recovered from the water through a separator 36 which can be a fluid filter, evaporator or the like which generates a third collection stream 37 that is sent to a refinery or the like for final concentration and recovery of the collected materials. It will be understood that other known collection systems may be used which are suitable to remove small molecular components and elements from the gaseous collector flow and then separate these together or individually for recovery and commercial use or sale. In Figure 6, the third stage collector 35 also is shown as having an exhaust pipe 38 which discharges the gaseous exhaust 39 to atmosphere or to other conventional cleaning systems which ensure removal of any toxic or undesirable materials from the exhaust 39.

[0069] Generally, to drive the plasma field 15, the power supply 12 includes a first line 40 which connects to a first electrode 41, and a second line 42 which connects to an internal sleeve 43 that defines a second electrode 44. An electromagnetic field (EMF) generator 45 is provided in the processor head 14 which is cooled by a fluid or oil-based first coolant system 46 which has a cold-side feed line 47 which supplies coolant to the EMF generator 45, and a return line 48 which returns the coolant to a heat transfer device 49 such as a radiator in order to dissipate heat generated by the EMF generator 45 and any heat from the plasma transferring into this region.

[0070] The EMF generator 45 also is driven and controlled by electrical lines 50A and 50B which extend to the power supply 12.

[00711 Additionally, a second cooling system 51 is provided which preferably includes a tank 52 of liquid nitrogen which is feed to the processor head 14 through a feed line 53. The liquid nitrogen of other suitable liquefied gas is at a very low temperature in order to counteract the heat generated by the plasma field 15, and converts back to a gas when encountering the heat generated in the processor head 14. The plasma field 1 in operation is estimated to be in the temperature range of 10,000-35,000 degrees Fahrenheit and the cooling system 51 serves to maintain structural temperatures in the processor head 14 so as to avoid meltdown and deterioration of components. The processor head 14 includes a discharge line 54 which discharges the gaseous nitrogen to an appropriate discharge environment. [0072] These support systems thereby serve to process the source materials 17, collect the processed materials 20, drive the plasma field 15 and cool the system components.

[0073] More particularly as to the power supply 12, a schematic diagram of circuitry according to the exemplary embodiment is shown in Figure 7. A pulse trigger PT provides pulsed energy via an SCR-gated rail gap switch and capacitor combination. According to this exemplary embodiment, the PT utilizes a capacitor of 1.8 μΡ to handle a nominal 8 kV voltage.

[0074] The LCR circuit provided by inductor Li, capacitor

Figure imgf000016_0001
and R2 are tuned to provide impedance match specific to the electrical properties inherent in the geometry of the plasma gap PG. n this embodiment, the inductor Li has a value of 128 uh, and the resistors Ri and R2 are each 7 Ω. The value of the capacitor Ci is selected to provide tuning of the impedance.

[0075] Phantom block PS indicates a power supply circuit that takes three-phase AC power from power sources Pi, P2, 3 and rectifies it into an unregulated DC supply at the high voltage side of a supply capacitor Cs. The supply capacitor Cs is advantageously chosen to be a ceramic capacitor having a value of 0.01 uP and the other capacitors in the circuit PS may be chosen to be 0.047 uP.

[0076] The circuit of Figure 7 provides sufficient voltage to initiate flow of plasma across the plasma gap PG, and sufficient current to sustain existence of the plasma IS in a sheet between the electrodes 41 and 44 of the plasma gap PG.

[0077] The illustrated sequencer is used to determine when power is initialized for the magnetic field power supply versus the main power supply. In order to guarantee power is supplied to the field power supply first, the start pulse generator PT second and the main plasma supply PS third. As to timing, the timing is not critical as long as several milliseconds elapse between events.

[0078] Referring to Figures 8-14, the processor head 14 includes the electrodes 41 and 44. The electrode 41 is a vertical rod, preferably formed of a suitable material such as carbon, tungsten, tungsten carbide or other materials. The materials may be selected such that the material is ablated during processing and the free particles of the electrode may further assist in the reaction of elements occurring in the plasma zone or gap PG. The electrode 41 is suspended from a non-conductive boom 70.

[0079] The head 14 includes the internal sleeve 43 that defines the second electrode 44. The sleeve 43 may be stainless steel or other suitable material and is electrically conductive and connects to the electrical line 42 as described above. The sleeve 43 may have a thicker center ring 71 which defines an annular electrode part which completes the circuit with the electrode 41 and forms the plasma field radially therebetween. The plasma rotates about the electrode 41 in accord with the above disclosure. If desired, a separate electrode ring could be mounted in the sleeve 43 and used as a replaceable electrode. As such, the material for a ring electrode could be made different than the sleeve material.

[0080] The outer surface of the sleeve 43 has grooves or threads 43A which help with heat transfer and define a circumferential space with an outer housing wall 74. These grooves help with heat transfer. The space forms a cooling chamber 75 which receives the liquid nitrogen that flows between the inlet and outlet and cools the sleeve 43 during plasma operation. The sleeve 43 is welded or sealed at the top and bottom edges with the wall 74 to form the chamber 75.

|0081] The electromagnetic field (EMF) generator 45 is provided in the processor head 14 in a cooling chamber 76 defined on one side by the wall 74 and on the outer sides by a chamber housing 76A. The chamber 76 is oil filled and is cooled by a fluid or oil-based first coolant system 46 which has a cold-side feed line 47 which supplies coolant to the EMF generator 45, and a return line 48 which returns the coolant to a heat transfer device 49 such as a radiator in order to dissipate heat generated by the EMF generator 45 and any heat from the plasma transferring into this region.

[0082] The chamber 76 includes a core 77 which has an annular channel 78 that includes wraps of wiring to form the electromagnet 79. The electromagnet 79 generates a magnetic field in accord with that described above, wherein the field lines exist in the PG and govern the formation of the plasma field 15.

[0083] A top cap 80 is provided which covers the central passage 82 and includes an insulator for the electrode 41. The cap 80 has a slot 83 which is elongate and receives the feed pipe 85 from the hopper feed system. As such, the source material 17 is fed to the plasma field 15 radially adjacent to the electrode 41. The plasma field 15 processes the material and discharges through the bottom pipe.

[0084] As seen in Figure 15, the material may react with the plasma field 15 in a reaction zone 86 which is estimated to require less than the total circular area of the plasma. With an eight inch or greater diameter for the plasma field 15, additional reaction zones 87 and 88 might be used if additional feed pipes are provided. These zones 86, 87 and 88 would be circumferential ly offset from each other.

[00108] While particular embodiments of the present invention have been shown and described, it will be obvious to those skilled in the art that the invention is not limited to the particular embodiments shown and described and that changes and modifications may be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the appended claims.

Claims

CLAIMS We Claim:
1. A method of material processing of a source material to recover desired materials therefrom comprising the steps of: providing a material processor system that includes a processor head; generating a sheet-like plasma within the processor head that extends between a first electrode within the processor head interior and a second electrode within the processor head interior, the second electrode being spaced from said first electrode; generating an electromagnetic field externally of said plasma that acts on said plasma during said formation of said plasma wherein said electromagnetic field has Lorentz forces associated therewith which effect rotation of said plasma through said space between the electrodes about an axis; and balancing of thermodynamic forces and centrifugal forces acting upon the plasma with Lorentz forces associated with said electromagnetic field acting upon the plasma so as to confine said plasma in such a manner so as to form the sheet-like plasma between said first and second electrodes; providing a plasma energy control system in the material processor system;
adjusting the energy control system such that the sheet-like plasma has an adequate energy level to break down or dissociate individual particles of the source material to a reduced molecular or elemental level when the source material is fed into the field; feeding the source material into the field; processing the source material in the field such that a processed source material is created, the processed source material comprising individual particles of the source material that are broken down or dissociated to reduced molecular or elemental components; removing the processed source material from the processor head; and separating desired reduced molecular or elemental components from the remaining processed source material.
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US20070123041A1 (en) * 2003-06-25 2007-05-31 Sekisui Chemical Co., Ltd. Apparatus and method for surface processing such as plasma processing

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US5288969A (en) * 1991-08-16 1994-02-22 Regents Of The University Of California Electrodeless plasma torch apparatus and methods for the dissociation of hazardous waste
US20030230241A1 (en) * 2001-02-01 2003-12-18 The Regents Of The University Of California Apparatus for magnetic and electrostatic confinement of plasma
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