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After the adsorption process.9995%. the adsorbent is regenerated by depressurizing the vessel containing the adsorbent.000 CFH with purities ranging from 95% . Major applications outside of nitrogen have been the recovery of high purity hydrogen. PSA can produce the nitrogen gas continuously by repeating above adsorption and regeneration.Introduction Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) is a nitrogen gas generation method with a specially designed adsorbent. CO2 and H2O molecules when under a certain pressure. . This adsorbent is called a Carbon Molecular Sieve (CMS) having micro pores in its surface to adsorb O2. The use of the PSA process has seen immense growth during the last few decades.99. mainly due to its simplicity and low operating costs.000 CFH to 60. methane and carbon dioxide and oxygen. PSA has been successfully used to produce nitrogen from a rate of 5. The number and size of the CMS will dictate the purity of the nitrogen produced and the flow rates possible.
such as permeation membrane systems and cryogenic distillation. This means it is important to first establish if PSA is the most efficient and economic method for your application. In order to do this you will need to determine the day to day use of nitrogen that is anticipated and the purity of the nitrogen that is required. Figure 1 shows the areas where PSA is likely to be a good option (Adsorption onsite generation).When to Use PSA There different options of nitrogen production. Figure 1 – Map of areas covered by different methods1 .
It is not always necessary to produce highly pure nitrogen. . the cost of production). The purity of nitrogen required to blanket a flammable material is determined by the material’s Limiting Oxygen Concentration (LOC) or Lower Flammability Limit (LFL). Figure 2 can give an idea of the general trend of how costs change with increasing levels of purity and increasing flow rates. These values can be obtained from the National NFPA Fire Protection on Association’s (NFPA) 69: Standard Explosion Prevention Systems.e. This is bad news for PSA as PSA works Figure 2 – Effect of Purity on cost1 most efficiently when working at its full design capacity. For example blanketing vegetable oils can be done with purities of around 99. In this guideline it can be seen that sometimes the purity required can be below 95%.5%.When to Use PSA PSA can produce nitrogen in a range of purities as shown in figure 1. However. figure 1 does not take into account the financial aspect (i. During the course of a day the demand for nitrogen can vary.
1 . As well as knowing figures like the number of hours of operation during a day. PSA systems are usually aimed at having a utilisation of 90% or higher. When the loading pattern contains instantaneous peaks and troughs a PSA system will struggle. PSA systems are outstanding when it comes to supplying a steady flow pattern. This kind of flow pattern allows the unit to be sized very easily and constantly work at full capacity. If fluctuations are present in the load. it is just as important to know the fluctuations in the load during the day. Figure 3 – Possible nitrogen flow patterns.When to Use PSA In order to gain the maximum economic benefits from an on site PSA system it is incredibly important to ensure that it is working at maximum capacity for as long as possible. it will be the nature of these fluctuations that will determine the size of the PSA system. and the buffer tank if required. bringing high operating costs. An erratic flow pattern can usually be handled by a combination of a PSA system and liquid nitrogen supplements. To allow this to be done it is vital to establish the flow pattern on a daily basis that is required. Sizing for the lower demand will mean that a buffer tank will be required and sizing for peak demand will mean the PSA system is working at part capacity or idle.
Figure 4 .). Figure 4 shows the general system schematic for a PSA system.How Does PSA Work PSA systems are actually very easy to understand in concept. filtered to remove solids (dust particles etc.Basic Schematic for PSA system2 . put through the absorbent at high pressure and then either collected in a tank or distributed around the network. compressed to achieve the required pressure by the PSA system. The basic description would be that air is taken from the atmosphere.
How Does PSA Work Looking in more detail at the PSA system (the nitrogen generator module in figure 4) the process used by PSA can be condensed into 6 steps. The PSA system in general is constructed of two vessels containing an absorbent. apart from Nitrogen. This will allow vessel 1 to be prepared for adsorption and vessel 2 to be ready for regeneration. Carbon Dioxide and other gases found in air. The absorbent is there to remove Oxygen. and the 8 bar indicated in figure 5 is not compulsory. Figure 5 – Repressurisation/Depressurisation3 . while the other is regenerating. For the purpose of explanation and clarity. In figure 5 the green particles are nitrogen while the red are other gases present in air. from figure 5 the vessel on the left will be referred to as vessel 1 and the vessel on the left will be referred to as vessel 2. In between the two vessels there is a release to the atmosphere. The pressure required for pressurisation can vary from system to system. The first step of the process will involve pressurising vessel 1 and depressurising vessel 2. which will pass straight through the absorbent unaffected. Only one of the vessels is in operation at any given time.
Some of the nitrogen emitted is sent to vessel 2. After this step the whole cycle is repeated but with vessel 2 doing the adsorption and vessel 1 doing the regeneration. So at the exit point of vessel 1 pure nitrogen is emitted. Figure Adsorption Regeneration3 6 and Step 3 is known as Equalisation. During this step no nitrogen is produced and no gases from regeneration are released to the atmosphere as regeneration and absorption will have ceased. Vessel 1 is now pressurised and compressed air is being passed through it and the absorbent is active.How Does PSA Work The next step of the process is shown in figure 6. Vessel 2 is depressurised so passing a nitrogen through it will remove any absorbed gases from the absorbent and then this is released to the atmosphere. This step is called adsorption and regeneration. Equalisation3 . As the name suggests all that is happening during this time is that the pressure in Figure 7 vessels 1 and 2 are being equalised.
As there is also a possibility of nitrogen rich atmospheres being produced. This is particularly dangerous when the system is housed within a building. Safety Considerations When installing the PSA it is vital to install proper ventilation. the oxygen level should be monitored to ensure it stays above 19. It is important that the area the system is housed in is well ventilated and provided with adequate fire protection.During operation Nitrogen generators such as PSA system can produce oxygen rich and nitrogen rich atmospheres. always ensure the nitrogen exhaust and the waste gases are piped out of the building.5% as lower than this constitutes hazardous working conditions. It is recommended that the oxygen concentration within the building should not exceed 23. hence a reduction in the oxygen level. it is recommended that personnel working in the building where the PSA is housed should wear flame retardant clothing such as NOMEX. As previously mentioned that it is possible to have an oxygen enriched area. . as leakages from pipes and tools can also result in an oxygen deficient area. Sensors for the oxygen level should also be linked in with an alarm system. This is because if an oxygen rich atmosphere is produced there is a significantly increased risk of fire. An important note would be to consider having an oxygen level alarm in rooms where tools are powered by gases other than oxygen.5%. and signs should be posted to warn personnel of a possible oxygen deficient area. in which fire hazards are increased. If it is not possible to maintain an oxygen level that is adequate then the correct breathing apparatus should be provided. and that the building and directly surrounding area be kept free of hydrocarbons and other combustible materials.
The survey should include but not be limited to. survey of the surrounding area should be performed. In industrial areas some level of contamination is to be expected. One of the primary factors in site selection is the quality of air. Any non – metallic material will react with oxygen. As noted in the ‘Safety Considerations’ section the ventilation of the building that houses the PSA is of paramount importance. It is important to ensure that around the PSV there will be enough space for other operations and maintenance to continue. oxygen rich gases should be considered. When selecting materials the presence of high velocity. contact the manufacturer for suitable materials of seals and gaskets are required. road traffic). and the manufacturer should be consulted to determine acceptable levels of contamination. looking at how future development might affect the air quality and investigations into potential fire hazards.e. It is recommended that a minimum of 6 air changes an hour are performed. The release of the oxygen rich waste gas should be funnelled away from any possible sources of ignition (i. acid gases and particulate matter. . This will have a negative affect on the operation of the PSA system and in the case of hydrocarbons and other flammable particles could have a serious impact on the safety of the operation of the PSA system. so when routing exhaust gases. Materials used for the construction of the PSA and interconnecting pipework are usually carbon steel or copper. Many PSA systems are located in or near industrial areas. When selecting a site.Installation 1 The first part of installation is site selection. It is likely the air will be contaminated with hydrocarbons. resulting in the air quality be fairly low.
A large. Something that is sometimes overlooked is the noise produced by compressors and high gas velocities. Under EN60079 Nitrogen generators are not thought to be a hazard to electrical equipment. It common practice to have an emergency shut down system on a PSA.Installation 2 Before the installation is completed and the PSA turned on. so it is acceptable to use general purpose wiring depending on if the location in in or out doors. dirt. The particle produced are not normally hazardous but are frequently a low level irritant and the particle can cause measuring instruments to provide inaccurate readings. . this should be considered if placing near a residential area. All equipment must be grounded. Waste gases from nitrogen generators are typically high in water content. and on larger installation there may be more than one place to trigger the system. The fire protection that would need to be installed for the PSA system is very simple. readily available supply of water is usually sufficient if in the form of a number of fire hydrants or hoses. The fire protection system should allow the fire to be approached from all angles. pipework needs to be cleaned. so drainage and freezing protection should be considered. When reviewing hazards with in PSA supplier ‘dusting’ (deterioration of the adsorbent) should be taken into account. Also the venting of the building should be directed away from personnel and exhaust from pressure relief valve should directed away from personnel. weld slag and oils is vital for minimising the fire risk and maximising the life and performance of the PSA. The removal of rust. especially in the waste gas routing.
Provisions should be made for the disposal of such solids or fluids. a hazard review should be performed to reduce any possible hazards. . It is preferable that more than one person performs this. that comply with all national and local environmental practices. The condensate stream do sometimes contain small quantities of oil. glycol and molecular sieve dust.Installation 3 PSA systems will have air compression systems that will generate water condensation via processes such as drying. Finally before installation is started.
Nitrogen can be stored on site as a cryogenic liquid in a tank. . odourless. EIGA DOC 127/13 will provide good guidance for the storage of cryogenic nitrogen for up to 125. When considering small quantities of nitrogen (50 litres or less) the use of dewars is appropriate. 1713). Usually this is only an option when the amount of nitrogen to be stored is quite high. for To reduce the dangers on handling stored cryogenic liquids (in this case nitrogen) it is important to undertake a risk assessment in accordance with the Confined Spaces Regulations (SI 1997 No. The characteristics of nitrogen that can it to be a hazard when stored in large quantities are that it is colourless. tasteless and more importantly does not support life. This is due to the fact that sites across the world all have different environments to cater for. Therefore every storage system needs to be designed with the on site environment considered. Before choosing the option of storing small quantities cryogenically.Storage – Cryogenic Liquid Each site will have their own issues with the storage of nitrogen. Refer to BCGA Code of Practice 36 for information on the design of cryogenic gas storage on site.000 litres. it is important that cost implications are considered. BCGA COP 30 is able to give good advise on storing cryogenic nitrogen on a small scale in dewars.
the treats are that it may be compressed in a cylinder.Storage . therefore likely to explode when heated and it is an asphyxiant stored in a high concentration. This means it is important to keep the nitrogen cylinders in a cool.Gaseous As mentioned in the Cryogenic storage section nitrogen is only a treat to life because it is a gas that does not support life. well ventilated area. This means when storing nitrogen on site in cylinders. . The cylinders should not be allowed to reach temperatures above 50oC. as gas form. For further advice see BOC Doc 8347. Frequent inspections of cylinders should be performed to check for leaks and the area they are stored in should preferably be away from sources of heat and ignition. The cylinders should be stored in a vertical orientation and should be secured to prevent them from falling over.
Piping and Distribution 1 Care should be always be taken when designing piping and distribution for nitrogen. The pressure reducing station should have a Pressure Reducing Device (PRD) on the low pressure side of the pressure reducing station as a back up if the station should fail. Consideration of local temperatures and pressures involved should be taken into account. . When pumping large quantities of nitrogen around a large network. it may be suitable to have pressure reducing stations outside of workshops or any other site where the nitrogen is to be used. This is to reduce the pressure of the nitrogen to the correct pressure for use. The components of the pipework system itself should have isolation valves where necessary to allow for testing and maintenance.
All underground pipework must not have threaded or flanged connections in order to prevent gas from leaking and cathodic protection should be used to prevent corrosion. Other things to bare in mind are sources of damage and vibration. Underground pipework should also have consideration of how temperature changes will expand and contract the pipework. and to design the distribution network with expansion and contraction due to heat in mind. it is best to encase them in pipe sleeves that are then vented to atmosphere. When underground pipes are to go under load bearing roads or paths. .Piping and Distribution 2 When piping pressurised nitrogen above ground it is important to keep piping away from sources of heat. Refer to EIGA Doc 149/10 section 8 for more guidance.
The log sheets are there to monitor temperatures. pressures. Keeping a log sheet will help to diagnose any problems early and adjust any characteristics to optimise performance. The actual operation of the PSA should be performed by a properly qualified persons. . The creation of operation checklists and log sheets should be created for the start-up and operation of a generator and all of its components.Operation of the PSA For the operation of the PSA to be done in a safe manner it is generally a case of getting the correct practices and procedures in place. For example what should be done in case of a fire in the compressor. For further guidance see EIGA Doc 149/10 section 9. power and capacity. vibrations. who will have developed a list of procedures to cover different failures of the PSA.
5% .23. After new equipment has been installed. If repairs are necessary and require piping or vessel to be opened or have hot repairs done. For further guidance see EIGA Doc 149/10 section 10. This means the creation of a nitrogen or oxygen enriched atmosphere is likely in these areas. . the pipe work or vessels concerned should be purged with clean air until an oxygen concentration of 19.5% is achieved and can be maintained.Maintenance Performing maintenance on these system can be very dangerous. before restarting the PSA a good cleaning process to remove any contaminants should be performed. Also it means that work may have to carried out in confined areas. The tanks containing the adsorbent are usually stored in cabinets.
com/~/media/Files/PDF/products/producing-nitrogen-via-psa-CEP-Article_20120638. NITROGEN AND ARGON STORAGE SYSTEMS AT PRODUCTION SITES IGC Doc 127/13/E BOC gases Datasheet (Nitrogen – oxygen free) SAFE INSTALLATION AND OPERATION OF PSA AND MEMBRANE OXYGEN AND NITROGEN GENERATORS IGC Document 149/10/E 7) BULK LIQUID OXYGEN.gastec.com. NITROGEN AND ARGON STORAGE SYSTEMS AT PRODUCTION SITES AIGA 031/06 .pdf [online] Accessed 12/09/2013 2) http://www.airproducts.References 1) http://www.com/nitrogenus/products/nitrogen_generators/psa_nitrogen/ [online] Accessed 13/09/2013 Useful Documents 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) BCGA CODE OF PRACTICE CP36 BCGA CODE OF PRACTICE CP30 BCGA CODE OF PRACTICE CP25 BULK LIQUID OXYGEN.pdf [online] Accessed 13/09/2013 3) http://www.atlascopco.my/Nitrogen/N2%20PSA/GasTec%20PSA%20N2%20Gen%20Systems%20Presentation.
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