Nitrogen Generator - Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) - On-Site Nitrogen

Pressure swing adsorption (PSA) is a technology used to separate some gas species from a mixture of gases under pressure according to the species’ molecular characteristics and affinity for an adsorbent material. It operates at near-ambient temperatures and differs significantly from cryogenic distillation techniques of gas separation. Specific adsorptive materials (e.g., activated carbon, molecular sieves, etc.) are used as a trap, preferentially adsorbing the target gas species at high pressure. The process then swings to low pressure to desorb the adsorbed material.

PROCESS

Pressure swing adsorption processes rely on the fact that under high pressure, gases tend to be attracted to solid surfaces, or “adsorbed”. The higher the pressure, the more gas is adsorbed; when the pressure is reduced, the gas is released, or desorbed. PSA processes can be used to separate gases in a mixture because different gases tend to be attracted to different solid surfaces more or less strongly. If a gas mixture such as air, for example, is passed under pressure through a vessel containing an adsorbent bed of zeolite that attracts nitrogen more strongly than it does oxygen, part or all of the nitrogen will stay in the bed, and the gas coming out of the vessel will be enriched in oxygen. When the bed reaches the end of its capacity to adsorb nitrogen, it can be regenerated by reducing the pressure, thereby releasing the adsorbed nitrogen. It is then ready for another cycle of producing oxygen-enriched air.

Using two adsorbent vessels allows near-continuous production of the target gas. It also permits so-called pressure equalization, where the gas leaving the vessel being depressurized is used to partially pressurize the second vessel. This results in significant energy savings, and is common industrial practice.

 

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