Did you know that the biggest part of the air we breathe is nitrogen? Everyone needs oxygen to survive; however, air is made up of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and tiny amounts of other gases. And although the human body doesn't use nitrogen, it's essential in powering a variety of industrial applications!
The lack of reactivity of nitrogen is its biggest quality and as a result, the gas is used to prevent slow and fast oxidation. The electronics industry presents a perfect example of this use, as during the production of circuit boards and other small components, slow oxidation can occur in the form of corrosion. Slow oxidation is also no stranger to the food and beverage industry, wherein in this case, nitrogen is used to displace or replace the air in order to better preserve the end product. Explosions and fires are a good example of fast oxidation, since they need to be fueled by oxygen. Removing the oxygen from a vessel with the help of nitrogen, lessens the likelihood of these accidents from occurring.
If an application requires nitrogen use, there are three main ways of obtaining the gas. One is to lease an on-site nitrogen tank and have the gas delivered, the second is having nitrogen gas delivered in high pressure bottles. The final one is generating your own nitrogen using compressed air. Buying or leasing nitrogen can become very inconvenient, inefficient and costly, since there is a need to deal with a third party supplier. For these reasons many businesses have opted out of leasing and decided to generate their own nitrogen, with the ability to control the amount, purity and pressure for a given application. Additional benefits include a stable price, no transport costs or delays, no hazards related to cryogenic storage and no waste related to boil-off losses or returning high pressure bottles that can never be fully emptied. There are two types of nitrogen generators, membrane nitrogen generators as well as PSA (Pressure Swing Adsorption) nitrogen generators, which allow achievement for very high purities of 99.999% or 10 PPM (parts per million) and even higher. Learn more about the latter here.
With nitrogen being an inert gas, it is suited for a wide range of uses in many different industries. It should be noted that different uses may require different levels of purity. While extremely pure nitrogen may be needed for some applications, for example in the food and beverage industries or the pharmaceutical sector, the gas has to be a lot less pure for others, such as fire prevention.
Take a look below at some of the typical industrial applications of nitrogen gas.