nitrogen

Nitrogen

High Purity, Technical / Food Grade / Commercial Grade

Nitrogen, or N2, is a diatomic gas which comprises 78 percent of the earth's atmosphere. In addition to air, nitrogen is found in the protein matter of all life forms, in some natural gas-hydrocarbon deposits, and in many organic and inorganic compounds.

Colorless, odorless, tasteless, and nontoxic, nitrogen exists as a non-flammable gas at atmospheric temperatures and pressures. A specific gravity of .9669 makes nitrogen slightly lighter than air. When cooled to its boiling point of -320°F, nitrogen becomes a colorless liquid which can, in turn, be compressed into a colorless, crystalline solid. It is only slightly soluble in water and most other liquids, and is a poor conductor of heat and electricity.

Most uses of gaseous nitrogen depend on its inert characteristics. At high temperatures and pressures, however, it will combine with some reactive metals (such as lithium and magnesium) to form nitrides, as well as with some gaseous elements such as hydrogen and oxygen.

Production of Nitrogen

Nitrogen, one of the largest volume industrial gases, is produced commercially as a gas or as a liquid by several methods. These include:

  • Cryogenic Air separation, a process in which air is compressed and cooled to cryogenic temperatures, liquefied and then, relying on different boiling points, separated into its components in a distillation column. This can be done in a co-products plant producing nitrogen, oxygen and argon, or in a Nitrogen Plant (N-Plant) which produces high purity nitrogen only.
  • Membrane separation, a non-cryogenic technology that uses hollow-fiber polymer membranes to separate gaseous nitrogen from air by selective permeability. Membrane nitrogen is usually lower cost than cryogenically produced nitrogen, but it is also lower purity.
  • Cryogenic distillation accounts for approximately 85 percent of nitrogen production. It is the preferred supply mode for high volume and high purity requirements. Membrane systems are preferred because of their lower cost and simplicity for smaller and lower purity requirements.

Applications

  • Chemical Processing to inert vessels and oxygen-sensitive chemicals, that reduces safety hazards; to propel liquids through pipelines; and to manufacture ammonia.
  • Food to extend shelf-life in packaged foods by preventing spoilage from oxidation, mold growth, moisture migration and insect infestation; to rapidly freeze; and to refrigerate perishables during transport.
  • Metal Production to protect metals such as steel, copper and aluminium during annealing, carburizing and sintering operations in high temperature furnaces; to cool extrusion dies; and to shrink fit metal parts; utilized as a purge gas with stainless steel tube welding. Also used to support plasma cutting.
  • Electronics to prevent oxidation in the manufacture of semiconductors and to enhance solvent recovery systems by eliminating the use of chlorofluorocarbons for cleanup.
  • Glass Manufacturing to cool furnace electrodes and prevent oxidation during manufacturing; and to lower air temperatures for optimum cooling rates.
  • Research and Health Services to freeze and preserve blood, tissue, semen and other biological specimens; to freeze and destroy diseased tissue in cryosurgery and dermatology; and to pre-cool or insulate Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), conserving the more costly helium.
  • Construction to suppress the pour temperature of concrete mixtures, inhibiting the formation of cracks; and to stabilize the ground as in the restoration of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

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