METHOD AND DEVICE FOR CREATING A
MICRO PLASMA JET
CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED
The present application claims priority from U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/575,146, filed May 28, 2004.
STATEMENT REGARDING GOVERNMENT i o
This invention was made in part with government support under GrantNo. AFOSRF49620-00-1-0079 awarded May 1, 2000 by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. The 15 government has certain rights in this invention.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
1. Field of the Invention 20 The present invention relates generally to the field of
plasma devices and their uses. More particularly, this invention relates to the creation and use of a microhollow cathode plasma jet discharge.
2. Description of the Related Art 25 Plasma is an electrically neutral, ionized state of gas, which
is composed of ions, free electrons, and neutral species. As opposed to normal gases, with plasma some or all of the electrons in the outer atomic orbits have been separated from the atom, producing ions and electrons that are no longer be 30 bound to one other. Typically, ultraviolet radiation or electrical fields can be used to create plasma by accelerating (or heating) the electrons and ionizing the gas. With separated electrons, plasmas will interact or couple readily with electric and magnetic fields. Practical applications of plasmas may 35 include plasma processing, plasma displays, surface treatments, lighting, deposition, ion doping, etc.
When the ions and electrons of a plasma are the same temperature, then the plasma is considered to be in thermal equilibrium (or a "thermal plasma.") That is, the ions and free 40 electrons are at a similar temperature or kinetic energy. For example, a typical thermal plasma torch used for atmospheric pressure plasma spraying may easily provide a plasma flow with temperatures between 9,000 and 13,000 K.
Non-thermal plasmas are plasmas where the electrons may 45 be in a high state of kinetic energy or temperature, while the remaining gaseous species are at a low kinetic energy or temperature. The typical pressure for generating a non-thermal or low temperature plasma glow discharge is approximately 100 Pa. Devices that attempt to generate discharges at 50 higher or atmospheric pressures face problems with heating and arcing within the gas and/or the electrode, sometimes leading to problems with electrode wear. To counteract these effects, the linear dimension of the device may be reduced to reduce residence time of the gas in the electric field or a 55 dielectric barrier may be inserted to separate electrodes. However, these adjustments can affect scalability and power consumption. Other cases may employ gasses intended to inhibit arcing or ionization. The field has produced few low power, atmospheric, non-thermal plasma jet capable of oper- 60 ating at room or near room temperature.
Some researchers have investigated the generation of nonthermal plasma discharges at atmospheric pressures. For example, a micro beam plasma generator has been described by Koinuma et al. Hideomi Koinuma et al., "Development 65 and Application of a Microbeam Plasma Generator," Appl. Phys. Lett. 60(7), (Feb. 17, 1992). This generator produced a
micro beam plasma discharge using radio frequency (RF) and ionization of a gas that flowed between two closely spaced concentric electrodes separated by a quartz tube as a dielectric. The plasma discharge temperature was 200-400C.
Stoffels et al. has disclosed a non-thermal plasma source titled a "plasma needle." E. Stoffels et al., "Plasma Needle: a non-destructive atmospheric plasma source for fine surface treatment of (bio)materials," Plasma Sources Sci. Technol. 11 (2002) 383-388. The plasma needle also used an RF discharge from a metal needle; an RF electrode is mounted axially within a gas filled, grounded cylinder to generate plasma at atmospheric pressure. Plasma appeared at the tip of the needle and its corona discharge was collected by a lens and optical fiber.
Stonies et al. recently disclosed a small microwave plasma torch based on a coaxial plasma source for atmospheric pressures. Robert Stonies et al., "A new small microwave plasma torch," Plasma Sources Sci. Technol. 13 (2004) 604-611. This torch generated a microwave induced plasma jet induced by microwaves at 2.45 GHz. Some of the features of this torch were relatively low power consumption (e.g., 20-200 W) compared to other plasma sources and its small size. However, the excitation temperature for this small plasma generator was about 4700K.
In general, micro beam generators are often limited in size by a requirement that the concentric or coaxial dielectric be limited in thickness for proper plasma generation. High pressure or atmospheric glow discharges in parallel plane electrode geometries may be prone to instabilities, particularly glow to arc transitions, and have generally been believed to be maintainable only for periods in the order of ten nanoseconds. Further, the above high pressure devices require RF or microwave signals, which can complicate practical implementation.
U.S. Pat. No. 6,262,523 to Selwynet al. disclosed an atmospheric plasma jet with an effluent temperature no greater than 250C. This approach used planar electrodes configured such that a central flat electrode (or linear collection of rods) was sandwiched between two flat outer electrodes; gas was flowed along the plane between the electrodes while dielectric material held the electrodes in place. An RF source supplied the central electrode, which consumed 250 to 1500 W at 13.56 MHz, for an output temperature of near 100C and a flow rate of about 25-52 slpm. One function of the high flow rate is to cool the center electrode in an attempt to avoid localized emissions. This device requires Helium to limit arcing; Helium has a low Townsend coefficient so that electric discharges in Helium carry high impedance. The embodiment that employs a linear collection of rods seeks to limit arcing by creating secondary ionization within the slots between the rods, forming a form of hollow cathode effect. Although an improvement, this device requires a high flow rate of helium, along with a significant RF power input to achieve an atmospheric plasma jet near 100C.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
The present invention is a novel device and method to generate a micro plasma jet at atmospheric pressure using microhollow cathode discharges (MHCDs). This device is capable of generating non-thermal plasma near 30C. When operated with rare gases or rare gas-halide mixtures, the MHCDs can emit a highly efficient excimer radiation. With a plurality of such jets at atmospheric pressure, the present invention may be used as for generating stable and large