US NRL project plasma physicist Dr John Sethian said the team plans to inject electron beams into the exhaust of a fossil fuel power plant, firing them in pulses and breaking the NOx apart into harmless nitrogen and oxygen.

The concept, if it works as expected, would be about 10-20% the cost of a catalytic scrubber for energy, and with no byproducts, Sethian added.

The concept has already been demonstrated by NRL chemist Dr Matthew Wolford at a small scale, using a mixture of just nitrogen and NOx and is now being tested with a more realistic sample.

Earlier, a cooperative research and development agreement was signed by NRL with Zerronox to develop solutions for reducing NOx from coal-fired power plants and other combustion-based energy sources.

"The cathode is kept at a very high voltage; the anode is at ground, which is 0 volts. The electrons accelerate from the cathode to the anode; but the anode is so thin that it doesn’t stop the electrons — and they keep going, into the gas, and they deposit their energy into the gas.

"We can run them several times a second for very long duration runs.

"We could probably have something ready to field in about two years," Sethian said.

Wolford is also assessing if an electron beam system, known as Electra, which was originally built for nuclear fusion research, can also be used to clean up coal power plant NOx emissions.