A Cost- and Environmentally Effective Approach to Supplying Nitrogen Gas to Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Industrial Facilities - Pharmaceutical Technology

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A Cost- and Environmentally Effective Approach to Supplying Nitrogen Gas to Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Industrial Facilities
The authors argue that the cost of generating nitrogen via an in-house gas generator is considerably lower than the cost of using fractional distillation to generate liquid nitrogen.

Pharmaceutical Technology
Volume 34, Issue 7

Safety benefits of nitrogen generation via PSA technology

When an in-house PSA-based nitrogen generator is employed, the nitrogen that is generated is at the pressure and flow rate that matches the requirements of the process. In contrast, when nitrogen from fractional distillation is employed, the external storage tank may hold several hundred liters or more, depending on the individual circumstances, of pressurized liquid nitrogen at –196 C (–320 F). A leak in the tank or the piping that leads to the reaction vessel could create significant problems from the rapid evaporation of the liquid. A leak could possibly cause displacement of the air and reduce the oxygen required for breathing. In addition, if an employee came into contact with liquid nitrogen, serious burns could occur.

Quality issues and the PSA nitrogen generator

Pharmaceutical companies periodically test incoming materials from outside suppliers to ensure that they meet specification and avoid the possibility that the material will create problems in their manufacturing process. As a result, many test the liquid gas being delivered. When a PSA nitrogen generator is employed, the user has complete control of the purity of the gas, and the system's on-board oxygen analyzer provides a continual check of the oxygen content.

Environmental benefits of nitrogen generation via PSA technology

An in-house nitrogen generator based on the pressureswing-adsorption technique requires considerably less energy and therefore has a considerably lower carbon footprint than fractional distillation of air and transportation of the gas from the distillation site. A significant amount of energy is expended in the fractional-distillation process, and additional energy is required to transport the nitrogen to the end-user. In contrast, an in-house PSA system simply requires a source of compressed air. Because the nitrogen is generated locally with a small energy requirement, it is quite likely that conversion to PSA generation of nitrogen will lead to a significant "green" credit for a pharmaceutical company that is not in the immediate vicinity of a fractional distillation site. A green credit also arises from the fact that it is no longer required to transport liquid nitrogen over significant distances. In addition, a significant amount of the power used to generate the nitrogen can be recovered by using an energy recovery-type system with a water-cooled air compressor (i.e., the electric energy used in the compressor can be transformed into heat and used elsewhere).


In-house generation of nitrogen for pharmaceutical manufacturing via the pressure-swing-adsorption technique can reduce the economic and environmental costs of providing the gas compared with fractional distillation followed by transporting the gas to the user's site. The magnitude of these benefits is especially significant when the manufacturing site is distant form the location of the distillation site. An in-house pressure-swing-adsorption system with a two-vessel design with appropriate valving and control system can provide the gas on a continuous basis. The system automatically responds to changes in the nitrogen demand to minimize power consumption and valve usage.

Mario Bolivar is business development manager at Industrial Nitrogen Products, Filtration and Separation Division, Parker Hannifin, and Peter Froehlich* is president at Peak Media, 10 Danforth Way, Franklin MA 02038, tel. 508.528.6145,

*To whom all correspondence should be addressed.


1. M. Daly, American Environmental Laboratory, 6, 3 (1995).

2. P. Froehlich and R. Cardarople, American Laboratory News, 10, 3, 17 (2008).

3. Nitrogen Generation Systems Bulletin FNS-D, Parker Hannifin, Haverhill, MA, pp.37 (2010).


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