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Technology, Nitrogen Generators

How it Works: Nitrogen Generation


Onsite nitrogen generation provides benefits to a variety of applications, including food and beverage manufacturers and the electronic and pharmaceutical industry. Generating nitrogen onsite offers three distinct advantages over bringing in nitrogen tanks and bottles: lower overall cost, no wait time and guaranteed purity.

But how does nitrogen generation technology work? Nitrogen generators aren’t actually creating nitrogen. They use nitrogen already present in the air and concentrate it by removing extra molecules. Typically, air is about 78 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen. There are also other molecules, including carbon dioxide, argon and water.

There are a few methods for removing extra molecules. Some nitrogen generators use pressure swing adsorption (PSA) to filter out unwanted molecules. When the air is drawn through the intake valve, it is sent through a carbon molecular sieve (CMS). The CMS has tiny pores across its surface that are the perfect size for oxygen molecules. Because nitrogen molecules are larger than oxygen molecules, they do not adsorb to the material and pass on undeterred through the CMS. (In various experiments, nitrogen molecules have been found to have a diameter about .2 Angstrom longer than oxygen. An Angstrom is about one-ten-billionth of a meter.) Similar to some desiccant dryers, PSA nitrogen generators have two chambers: one with fresh CMS for the current adsorption process and another that swings to low pressure to desorb oxygen from saturated CMS. PSA nitrogen generation can produce up to 99.999 percent pure nitrogen.

Another way to separate nitrogen is through membrane nitrogen generation. The membranes are a bundle of small, hollow polymer fibers with small pores across the surface.  Because oxygen is smaller than nitrogen, it preferentially passes through these pores, leaving nitrogen in the gas stream. This technology can produce up to 99.5 percent pure nitrogen.

Onsite nitrogen generation technology offers many benefits for end users. Contact an Atlas Copco representative today to find out more about our range of nitrogen generators perfect for a variety of applications.


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