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Nitrogen Generator – how it works

There are many benefits to generating your own nitrogen. But how does nitrogen generation work and how can it help your business? Here is an overview

Contact us to learn more

8 June, 2020

Nitrogen – a unique all-rounder

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

an illustration about compressed air in the atlas copco air wiki.
Nitrogen is the vehicle that allows oxygen to sustain life on our planet. But, due to a range of characteristics that make it ideal for many industrial applications, it does much more than “merely” keep us alive.

The most important of its features is that nitrogen is an inert gas, which means that it is slow to react with other substances. That makes it ideal for any application in which slow oxidation (e.g. the corrosion of circuit boards in the electronics industry) or fast oxidation (e.g. explosions or fires) have to be prevented. In addition, it is odorless and colorless, which means nitrogen is an ideal medium to be used in the food and beverage industries – for example to extend the expiration date of food products.

As a result of these properties, it is no surprise that nitrogen is in constant demand in many sectors – from the automotive and chemical industries to aquaculture and injection molding.

The world’s most abundant gas

Fortunately, nitrogen is available in abundance, making up most of the air we breathe. But that does not mean that it is ready for use in all of the aforementioned industrial applications as well as many others.

Nitrogen can be obtained in three ways. Companies can either lease an on-site nitrogen tank, have the gas delivered in high-pressure bottles, or generate their own. Many businesses quickly realize that the first two options, which rely on a third-party supplier, are inconvenient, inefficient and costly.

Fortunately, there are ways for them to generate their own nitrogen and control the amount, purity and pressure for any application – and guarantee that they have an endless supply of nitrogen available around the clock.

Watch this video about producing your own Nitrogen on site

How a Nitrogen generator works

Essentially, a nitrogen generator works by separating nitrogen molecules from the oxygen molecules within compressed air. This can be done with a membrane nitrogen generator or a PSA (pressure swing adsorption) nitrogen generator connected to a compressor.

But which technology to use? Well, it depends on the nitrogen quality you require. If, for example, you just need to inflate tires or use nitrogen to prevent/suppress fires, then a low nitrogen purity level of 90-99% and a membrane nitrogen generator will suffice.

However, a PSA nitrogen generator is required when you have to achieve very high purities of 99.999% or 10 PPM (parts per million) and even higher – for example in the food industry or for plastic molding.

In addition to allowing companies to control how much nitrogen they want to produce with how much pressure and which degree of purity, generating the gas themselves has other benefits.

They are no longer subject to price fluctuations on the market, save transport costs, and prevent delays. In addition, businesses generating their own nitrogen do not have to face the safety hazard that come with handling high-pressure cylinders, they incur no waste related to boil-off losses or have to return high pressure bottles that can never be fully emptied.

Over time, the initial investment for a nitrogen generator pays off because operating costs are kept significantly lower compared to getting nitrogen from a third party.

Ask an air system professional about how you can generate nitrogen in-house.