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Nitrogen: What Is It and Where Is It Used?

Nitrogen Industrial Gases Basic Theory Compressed Air Wiki Compressed Air

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!

What is Nitrogen?

what is nitrogen?
Nitrogen is an inert gas. It is odorless, colorless and does not sustain life, though it is important for plant growth and is a key additive in fertilizers. Its uses range far beyond the gardening sphere. Nitrogen usually appears in either liquid or gas form (although it is possible to attain solid nitrogen as well). Liquid nitrogen is used as a refrigerant, which is able to rapidly freeze foods and subjects in medical research, as well as reproductive technology.

For the purpose of compressed air systems, we'll stick with discussing nitrogen gas.

Nitrogen is widely used due to the fact that is does not react when exposed to other gases, unlike oxygen, which is extremely reactive. Due to its chemical composition, nitrogen atoms need more energy to be broken and react with other substances. Oxygen molecules, on the other hand, are easier to break apart, making the gas much more reactive. Nitrogen gas is the opposite, providing nonreactive environments where needed.

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, where its 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 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 option 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 amount, purity and pressure for a given application. Learn more about the P.R.I.C.E. Benefits of On-Site Nitrogen here.

There are two types of nitrogen generators: membrane nitrogen generators and PSA (Pressure Swing Adsorption) nitrogen generators, which allow purities of 99.999% or 10 PPM (parts per million) and higher to be achieved. Learn more about the latter here.

What Are Some Practical Applications of Nitrogen Gas?

With nitrogen being an inert gas, it is suited for a wide range of uses in many different industries. Take a look below at some of the typical industrial applications of nitrogen gas.

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an illustration about compressed air in the atlas copco air wiki.

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