Air Separation Technologies

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Conventional Process and Applications

Air separation is defined as a process of dividing clean and dry air into the elements, in particular nitrogen, oxygen and argon.

Different separation technologies are used while the most common methode deploys cryogenic distillation. Invented by Carl von Linde about hundred years ago this process is still the adequate technology to produce high purity gases from air with high capacity and it is able to generate oxygen or nitrogen at flows of up to 2500 tons/day from a single plant.

Using cryogenic air separation not only oxygen and nitrogen but also the other gases in air e.g. xenon, neon, carbon dioxide, hydrogen can be produced.

For generation of small and medium capacities of oxygen and nitrogen, when reduced purity of these gases is sufficient and for mobile applications cryogenic air separation is not the most economical or not an applicable methode.

Alternative Technologies

For these applications non cryogenic air separation technologies such as Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA), Vacuum Pressure Swing Adsorption (VPSA) and Membrane Gas Permeation are suitable. These technologies have developed to full commercial relevance. They are based on compressed air which is fed to a special arrangement of adsorbant or filter units.

Air separation based on adsorption technology is capable to produce nitrogen and medium-purity oxygen (max. 85...95% Vol. oxygen) at flow rates of up to 100 tons/day.

Membrane Gas Permeation is the most recent technology for air separation and used since the late 1980 years. Today membranes are widely spread for the production of nitrogen and oxygen-enriched air (OEA, max. 40 % Vol. of oxygen) at small scale and for mobile applications with up to e.g. 6.000 m3/h at  95 % Vol. of nitrogen.