In this paper, atmospheric pressure air discharge plasma in quartz tube is excited by 15 ns high-voltage nanosecond pulsed discharge (HVNPD) and sinusoidal alternating current discharge (SACD), respectively, and a comparison study of these two kinds of discharges is made through visual imaging, electrical characterization, optical detection of active species, and plasma gas temperature. The peak voltage of the power supplies is kept at 16 kV while the pulse repetition rate of nanosecond pulse power supply is 100 Hz, and the frequency of sinusoidal power supply is 10 kHz. Results show that the HVNPD is uniform while the SACD presents filamentary mode. For exciting the same cycles of discharge, the average energy consumption in HVNPD is about 1/13 of the SACD. However, the chemical active species generated by the HVNPD is about 2–9 times than that excited by the SACD. Meanwhile, the rotational and vibrational temperatures have been obtained via fitting the simulated spectrum of N2 (C3Πu → B3Πg, 0-2) with the measured one, and the results show that the plasma gas temperature in the HVNPD remains close to room temperature whereas the plasma gas temperature in the SACD is about 200 K higher than that in HVNPD in the initial phase and continually increases as discharge exposure time goes on.

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