Industrial gases are a group of gases that are specifically manufactured for use in a wide range of industries; which include oil and gas, petrochemicals, chemicals, power, mining, steelmaking, metals, environmental protection, medicine, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, food, water, fertilizers, nuclear power, electronics and aerospace.
The principal gases provided are nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, argon, hydrogen, helium and acetylene; although a huge variety of gases and mixtures are available in gas cylinders. The industry producing these gases is known as the Industrial Gases industry and is a part of the wider Chemical Industry (where industrial gases are often seen as "speciality chemicals").
- 1 Early History
- 2 Technology
- 3 Industrial gas - A definition
- 4 The gases
- 5 Applications
- 6 Companies in the industrial gas business
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
The first gas used by man from the natural environment was almost certainly air when it was discovered that blowing on or fanning a fire made it burn brighter. The warm gases from a fire could be used to smoke food. Cooking with water would have produced steam which could also have been used to cook some foods more slowly. Carbon dioxide would have been known as the byproduct of fermentation, particularly for beverages, which was first documented dating from 7000–6600 BCE in Jiahu, China. Natural gas was used by the Chinese in about 500 B.C. when they discovered the potential to transport gas seeping from the ground in crude pipelines of bamboo to where it was used to boil sea water. Sulfur dioxide was first used by the Romans in winemaking when it was discovered that if you burn candles made of sulfur inside empty wine vessels it would keep them fresh and prevent them gaining a vinegar smell.
However until the advent of scientific method and the science of chemistry, none of these gases would have been positively identified or understood. The history of chemistry tells us that a number of gases were identified and either discovered or first made in relatively pure form during the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries by notable chemists in their laboratories. The timeline of attributed discovery for various gases are carbon dioxide (1754) , hydrogen (1766), nitrogen (1772), nitrous oxide (1772), oxygen (1773) , ammonia (1774), chlorine (1774), methane (1776), hydrogen sulfide (1777), carbon monoxide (1800), hydrogen chloride (1810), acetylene (1836), helium (1868), fluorine (1886), argon (1894), krypton, neon and xenon (1898) and radon (1900).
Carbon dioxide, hydrogen, nitrous oxide, oxygen, ammonia, chlorine, sulfur dioxide and manufactured fuel gas were already being used during the 19th century, and mainly had uses in food, refrigeration, medicine, and for fuel and gas lighting. For example, carbonated water was being made from 1772 and commercially from 1783, chlorine was first used to bleach textiles in 1785  and nitrous oxide was first used for dentistry anaethesia in 1844. At this time gases were often generated for immediate use. A notable example of a generator is Kipps apparatus which was invented in 1844 and could be used to generate gases such as hydrogen, hydrogen sulfide, chlorine, acetylene and carbon dioxide by simple chemical reactions. Acetylene was manufactured commercially from 1893 and acetylene generators were used from about 1898 to produce gas for gas cooking and gas lighting, however electricity took over as more practical for lighting and once LPG was produced commercially from 1912, the use of acetylene for cooking declined.
Once gases had been discovered and produced in modest quantities, the process of industrialisation spurred on development of technology to produce larger quantities of these gases. Notable developments in the industrial production of gases include the electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen (in 1869) and oxygen (from 1888), the Brin process for oxygen production which was invented in the 1884, the chloralkali process to produce chlorine in 1892 and the Haber Process to produce ammonia in 1909.
The development of uses in refrigeration also enabled advances in the liquefaction of gases. Carbon dioxide was first liquefied in 1823. The first Vapor-compression refrigeration cycle using ether was invented in 1834 and a similar cycle using ammonia was invented in 1873 and another with sulfur dioxide in 1876. Liquid oxygen and Liquid nitrogen were both first made in 1883; Liquid hydrogen was first made in 1898 and liquid helium in 1908. LPG was first made in 1910. A patent for LNG was filed in 1914 and the first commercial production was in 1917.
Although no one event marks the beginning of the industrial gas industry, many would take it to be the 1880s with the construction of the first high pressure gas cylinders. Initially cylinders were mostly used for carbon dioxide in carbonation or dispensing of beverages. In 1895 refrigeration compression cycles were further developed to enable the liquefaction of air by Carl von Linde  allowing larger quantities of oxygen production and in 1896 the discovery that large quantities of acetylene could be dissolved in acetone and rendered nonexplosive allowed the safe bottling of acetylene. A particularly important use was the development of welding and metal cutting done with oxygen and acetylene from the early 1900s. As production processes for other gases were developed many more gases came to be sold in cylinders without the need for a gas generator.
Air separation plants refine air in a separation process and so allow the bulk production of nitrogen and argon in addition to oxygen - these three are often also produced as cryogenic liquid. To achieve the required low distillation temperatures an air separation unit uses a refrigeration cycle that operates by means of the Joule–Thomson effect. In addition to the main air gases, air separation is also the only practical source for production of the rare noble gases neon, krypton and xenon.
Cryogenic technologies also allow the liquefaction of natural gas, hydrogen and helium. In natural-gas processing, cryogenic technologies are used to remove nitrogen from natural gas in a Nitrogen Rejection Unit, a process that can also be used to produce helium from natural gas - where the natural gas fields contain sufficient helium to make this economic. The larger industrial gas companies have often invested in extensive patent libraries in all fields of their business, but particularly in cryogenics.
The other principal production technology in the industry is Reforming. Steam reforming is a chemical process used to convert natural gas and steam into a syngas containing hydrogen and carbon monoxide with carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Related alternatives which also require oxygen for the process are partial oxidation and autothermal reforming. Synthesis gas is often a precursor to the production of ammonia or methanol.
Air Separation and Hydrogen Reforming technologies are the cornerstone of the industrial gases industry and also form part of the technologies required for many fuel gasification and cogeneration, carbon capture and gas to liquids schemes. Hydrogen has many production methods and is touted as a carbon neutral alternative fuel to hydrocarbons, whilst liquid hydrogen is used by NASA in the Space Shuttle as a rocket fuel; see hydrogen economy for more information on hydrogens uses.
Simpler gas separation technologies, such as membranes and molecular sieves are also used to produce low purity air gases in nitrogen generators and PSA oxygen generators. Other examples producing smaller amounts of gas are chemical oxygen generators or oxygen concentrators.
In addition to the major gases produced by air separation and syngas reforming, the industry provides many other gases. These are not consistently categorised by the different industrial gas companies, but generally fall into the categories "specialty gases", “medical gases”, “fuel gases” or “refrigerant gases”; although often they are known by their uses or industries that they serve, hence "welding gases" or "breathing gases", etc. or even by their source, as in "air gases". These are produced in much smaller quantities than the major gases by a variety of processes; for example, hydrogen chloride is produced by burning hydrogen in chlorine, nitrous oxide is produced by gently heating ammonium nitrate and electrolysis is used for the production of fluorine. Since fluorine is highly reactive, industrial chemistry requiring fluorine often uses hydrogen fluoride (or hydrofluoric acid) instead. Another approach to this is to generate gas when required, which is done for example with ozone. Some gases are simply byproducts from other industries and others are sometimes bought from other larger chemical producers, refined and repackaged.
Related services can be provided such as vacuum which is often provided in hospital gas systems. Another unusual system is the inert gas generator. Some industrial gas companies may also supply related chemicals, particularly liquids such as bromine and ethylene oxide.
The major industrial gases can be produced in bulk and delivered to customers by pipeline, but can also be packaged and transported. Most gases can be sold in gas cylinders and some sold as liquid in appropriate containers (e.g. dewars) or as bulk liquid delivered by truck; exceptionally carbon dioxide can be produced as the cold solid dry ice. The industry originally supplied gases in cylinders to avoid the need for local gas generation but for large customers such as steelworks or oil refineries, a large gas production plant may be built nearby to avoid using large numbers of cylinders (typically called an "on-site" facility). Alternatively, an industrial gas company may supply the plant and equipment to produce the gas rather than the gas itself. An industrial gas company may also offer to act as plant operator under an operations and maintenance contract for a gases facility for a customer, since it usually has the experience of running such facilities for the production or handling of gases for itself.
The delivery options are therefore:
- Local gas generation
- Bulk transport (truck, rail, ship)
- Packaged gases in gas cylinders or other containers
A few gases can be liquefied under pressure alone, using a gas compressor; this includes chlorine, ammonia, carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide. Others are only liquid if also refrigerated.
Industrial gas - A definition
Industrial gas is a group of gases that are specifically manufactured for use in industry. They are chemicals which can be an elemental gas or a chemical compound that is either organic or inorganic. They could also be a mixture of such gases. They have value as a chemical; whether as a feedstock, in process enhancement, as a useful end product, or for a particular use; as opposed to having value as a "simple" fuel.
The term “industrial gases” is sometimes narrowly defined as just the major gases sold, which are: nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, argon, hydrogen, acetylene and helium. However there are many other gases and mixtures sold by the "industrial gases industry" and any gas or gas mixture probably has some industrial use and might be termed an "industrial gas" - the more significant ones are listed below.
When is a Gas not an Industrial Gas
A gas is generally not considered to be an industrial gas if it is used as a fuel rather than used as a chemical.
So any product of the oil and gas industry is not usually called an industrial gas; as an example, whilst it is true that natural gas is a "gas" used in "industry" - often as a fuel, sometimes as a feedstock, and in this generic sense is an "industrial gas"; this term is not generally used by industrial enterprises for hydrocarbons produced by the petroleum industry directly from natural resources or in an oil refinery. However gases that are petrochemicals (chemicals derived from petroleum) such as ethylene are also generally not described as "industrial gases" by industrial enterprises when used in bulk; but probably would be described as such if put in a gas cylinder. Even with this definition, there are areas of uncertain agreement. Manufactured fuel gas would historically have been considered an industrial gas before industry definitions were more sophisticated. Hydrogen-carbon monoxide syngas mixtures are often considered by the chemical industry to be a petrochemical and yet might be an "industrial gas" when produced for the specific molecules it contains, rather than being of value as a fuel. Propane could be considered an industrial gas when used as a refrigerant in an LNG plant, rather than simply being used as a fuel. Also note that materials such as ammonia and chlorine might be considered "chemicals" (especially if supplied as a liquid) instead of or sometimes as well as "industrial gases".
The distinctions here are really due to demarcations between industries, which in practice have some overlap, and so the definition is not always clear. However in today's usage of the term by industrial enterprises, an "industrial gas" is more likely to be a pure compound or precise mixture, packaged or in small quantities, but with higher purity or tailored to a specific use (e.g. oxyacetylene welding).
The known chemical elements which are, or can be obtained from natural resources and which are gaseous are hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine, chlorine, plus the noble gases; and are collectively referred to by chemists as the "elemental gases". These elements are all primordial apart from the noble gas radon which is a trace radioisotope but which does occur naturally, albeit only from radioactive decay. (Synthetic elements with atomic number above 108 are not considered in this list.)
The elements which are stable two atom homonuclear molecules at standard temperature and pressure (STP), are hydrogen (H2), nitrogen (N2) and oxygen (O2), plus the halogens fluorine (F2) and chlorine (Cl2). The noble gases are all monatomic.
In the industrial gases industry the term "elemental gases" (or sometimes less accurately "molecular gases") is used to distinguish these gases from molecules that are also chemical compounds. These elements are all nonmetals.
Radon is chemically stable, but it is radioactive and does not have a stable isotope. Its uses are due to its radioactivity rather than its chemistry and it requires specialist handling outside of industrial gas industry norms. It can however be produced as a by-product of uraniferous ores processing.
Important liquefied gases
This list shows the most important liquefied gases:
- Produced from hydrocarbon feedstock
- liquid carbon dioxide
Other common industrial gases
This list shows the other most common gases sold by industrial gas companies.
The uses of industrial gases are very diverse.
The following is a small list of areas of use:
- airgun / paintball
- beer widget
- Cutting and welding
- Environmental protection
- Food processing & packaging gas
- gas discharge lamp
- Metrology & measurement
- Laboratory and instrumentation
- Gases for safety and inerting
- Glass, ceramics, other minerals
- Lifting gas
- Medical gases
- rocket propellant
- Rubber, plastics, paint
- Semiconductor industry
- soda fountain
- Water treatment
- Underwater diving
Companies in the industrial gas business
- AGA AB (part of The Linde Group)
- Air Liquide
- Gulf Cryo
- Air Products & Chemicals
- Aneka Gas Industri
- BOC (part of The Linde Group)
- The Linde Group (formerly Linde AG)
- MOX-Linde Gases
- Messer Group
- Matheson Tri-Gas (part of Taiyo Nippon Sanso Corporation)
- Universal Industrial Gases Inc.
- CRYOTEC Anlagenbau GmbH
- Goyalgroup (Goyal MG Gases Pvt. Ltd.)- Largest Doemstic Industrial Gas Company in India
- Asia Technical Gas Co (PTE) LTD (ATG)
- National Oxygen Pte Ltd (NOX)
- Nippon Oxygen Sdn Bhd (NOSB)
- Air separation
- Chemical engineer
- Gas cylinder
- Gas separation
- Gas to liquids
- History of manufactured gas
- Hydrogen economy
- Hydrogen storage
- Hydrogen technologies
- Liquefaction of gases
- Liquid air
- Natural-gas processing
- Timeline of chemical element discoveries
- Timeline of hydrogen technologies
- Timeline of low-temperature technology
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