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PRESSURE SWING ADSORPTION

Pressure swing adsorption processes rely on the fact that under 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 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. Aside from their ability to discriminate between different gases, adsorbents for PSA systems are usually very porous materials chosen because of their large surface areas. Typical adsorbents are activated carbon, silica gel, alumina and zeolite.

PSA processes are often operated at low adsorbent loadings because selectivity between gaseous components is often greatest in the Henry's Law region. It is desirable to operate PSA processes close to ambient temperature to take advantage of the fact that for a given partial pressure the loading is increased as the temperature is decreased.

The adsorbate loading on the adsorbent is X1, expressed usually in the units of either weight or moles of adsorbate per unit weight of adsorbent.

USES OF PSA PROCESSES PSA processes are a popular process for performing bulk separations of gases. For the separation of air with zeolites, adsorption equilibrium is the controlling factor. Nitrogen is more strongly adsorbed than oxygen. For air with about 21% oxygen and 79% nitrogen, a product of nearly 96% oxygen purity can be obtained. When carbon molecular sieves are used, oxygen and nitrogen have almost the same adsorption isotherms, but the effective diffusivity of oxygen is much larger than nitrogen. Hence more oxygen is adsorbed than nitrogen, and a product of very high purity nitrogen ( 99%) can be obtained.