Nitrogen supplier to Southern California

Nitrogen, a chemically inert gas that is colorless and odorless, is the most common element in our Earth’s atmosphere, incorporating roughly 78% of our breathable air in Southern California. While we consider nitrogen inert, it is vital for most plants’ process to take up water, minerals and nutrients from soil, as well as providing our world with an effective ultraviolet and radiation filter.

Essentially all commercial nitrogen is produced by liquefying air and distilling it into its major components: nitrogen (78%), oxygen (21%) and argon (0.9%). While the technical ability to liquefy air has been known to us for more than 140 years, making use of this advancement for a while proved challenging. First believed to be an efficient means to produce industrial scale cooling, the capital and operating costs in air liquefaction proved to be a major barrier to commercial use for this application. The creation of the oxy-acetylene torch soon produced a budding market for oxygen, but of what use could the nitrogen be?

It turns out a market was developing. For most of the nineteenth century, agriculture in The Old World was getting increasingly dependent on guano imports from South America. This guano was rich in nutrients to supplement the depleted soils of the farm regions of Europe. But the price to mine, transport and store it increased as more readily accessible materials were depleted. It was known that most of the guano was urea-based, and a German chemist, Friedrich Wöhler had synthesized urea from ammonia salts in 1828. However, to make the process commercially viable, ammonia had to be affordably synthesized.

Early in the twentieth century, another German chemist, Fritz Haber, determined mixing hydrogen and nitrogen with an osmium catalyst produced ammonia efficiently, the higher the purity of the starting nitrogen and hydrogen, the better the yield. Further rapid discoveries in high pressure reactor design and lower cost iron-based catalysts enabled the first commercial ammonia production at BASF in Germany in 1913. Once this plant started production, new businesses developed quickly, including fertilizers, diazo dies and an entire organic chemicals industry. Thus, almost overnight a market was created for the “waste gas” produced from atmospheric air production, and the industrial gas business hit its initial growth spurt,

Today, nitrogen finds use in varied commercial applications, including: chemical processing, concrete cooling, construction, metal production and fabrication, and many other miscellaneous uses. Ultra high purity and ultra carrier nitrogen are used as blanketing agents in chemical and pharmaceutical processing, and generally used as carrier gases in both gas and liquid chromatography.

The specialty gas experts at WestAir Specialty Gases and Equipment have the experience to help identify the nitrogen product Southern California customers need. Give our team a call at 866-WESTAIR or use this online form to contact us.