Nitrogen is a chemical element with symbol N and atomic number 7. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions. Scientist has proven that four-fifths of Earth’s atmosphere is nitrogen, which was isolated and recognized as a specific substance during early investigations of the air.
Among the elements, nitrogen ranks sixth in outer space abundance. The atmosphere of Earth consists of 75.51% by weight (or 78.09% by volume) of nitrogen of which we breath; this is the major source of nitrogen for commerce and industry. The atmosphere also contains varying small amounts of ammonia and ammonium salts, as well as nitrogen oxides and nitric acid (the latter substances being formed in electrical storms and in the internal combustion engine). Free nitrogen is found in many meteorites, in gases of volcanoes, mines, and some mineral springs; in the Sun; and in some stars. There are various forms of nitrogen, we have nitrogen gas (N2), nitrite (NO2−) and nitrate (NO3−), nitric acid (HNO3), ammonia (NH3) and so many others.
Nitrogen gas is a compound that forms from elemental nitrogen by fractional distillation of liquid air or by mechanical means using gaseous air, which is found abundantly throughout the planet’s atmosphere and in most biochemical reactions. One of nitrogen’s unique properties is its ability to form multiple bonds with various other elements and compounds. This has made it incredibly versatile. Nitrogen compounds can be found in just about every industry and are used in many forms to carry out tasks. This gas is slightly lighter than air and slightly soluble in water. Nitrogen condenses at its boiling point,-195.8 oC (-320.4oF), to a colorless liquid that is lighter than water.
Nitrogen gas can be prepared in two ways; either by fractional distillation which is an energy-intensive process that cools the air to a liquid form and then separates the nitrogen from other compounds using differential boiling points. This method for the industrial production of nitrogen yields an extremely high purity (about 99.9995%), or by mechanical generation which is a form of nitrogen production that can be done two ways: through semi permeable hollow fiber membrane filtration which is fast and consumes less energy than fractional distillation, but provides a lower grade of purity (about 90 to 99.9 percent), or pressure swing absorption (PSA)which will provide a high purity (95 to 99.9995%) but has a complicated process in achieving this.
INDUSTRIAL USES OF NITROGEN GAS
- It is used for packaging in the food industry to prevent oxidation and spoilage of food.
- Nitrogen gas is used to make transistors, circuits and diodes.
- In the form of nitrous oxide, nitrogen is used in SCUBA gear and in surgery as an anesthetic.
- In manufacturing steel, it is used to prevent oxidation.
- For welding and metalworking to prevent oxides and waste compound formation.
- As a cheaper alternative to argon in light bulb manufacturing. Bulbs should not be filled with air since hot tungsten wire will combust in presence of oxygen.
- Nitrous oxide is used as a propellant in jet fuel, and professional motor racing.
- Used in Chemical industries during sample preparation in chemical analysis. It is used to concentrate and reduce the volume of liquid samples and also used in production of fertilizers, nitric acid, nylon, dyes and explosives.
- Nitrogen can be used in pressurizing beer kegs or in combination with carbon dioxide to pressurize kegs of some beers, particularly stouts and British ales, due to the smaller bubbles it produces which make the dispensed beer smoother.
HAZARDS OF NITROGEN GAS
- It can cause suffocation by replacing the oxygen in a confined area.
- Presence of Nitrogen gas will give false readings when using explosimeters or flammable gas detectors.
- Like other compressed gases, there are the risks related to its pressurized containment when it is stored in high pressure cylinders.
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