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The benefits of on-site nitrogen generation

12 December 2023

FROM FOOD packaging and brewing, electronics manufacturing to oil and gas refining, nitrogen is used extensively in numerous process industries. Given this, it's worth exploring the on-going shift from purchasing nitrogen externally to generating guaranteed-purity nitrogen on site using compressed air systems.

Traditionally, customers will purchase nitrogen from a supplier, either as gas in small high-pressure cylinders or in liquid form, stored in mini-tanks or bulk storage vessels.

However, obtaining and maintaining a readily available supply of nitrogen is not without its drawbacks. As well as finding a reliable vendor and arranging deliveries and payment, companies require sufficient space to store the gas; alongside a thorough procedure to monitor and manage the supply safely.

Nitrogen can now be produced easily as a by-product of compressed air generation and many operators are now realising the benefits of using their existing compressor to generate a steady supply of the gas. According to the Industrial Gas Users Association this can lead to cost savings of up to 90% compared to buying nitrogen in cylinders.

A company that currently uses liquid nitrogen can expect an on-site system to pay for itself completely in less than two years, whereas one that buys in gas cylinders could have a payback period of as little as one year.

Generating nitrogen

The heart of the on-site nitrogen generation system lies in the compressor. The process begins with the intake of ambient air, which is then compressed and directed through a series of purification stages, to remove contaminants and moisture. 

Subsequently, the purified compressed air is channelled into a selective membrane or pressure swing adsorption (PSA) unit.  Here, the compressed air is exposed to a material that absorbs the oxygen and other trace gases allowing nitrogen to pass through and exit the system.

Bespoke solutions

Compressed air systems for on-site nitrogen generation can be tailored to specific needs, allowing for precise control over nitrogen purity and flow rates. This ensures that the generated nitrogen meets the exact requirements of the application. This can be particularly beneficial for sectors with varying nitrogen needs, as adjustments can be made quickly and easily.

For example, some industries, such as food and beverage, electronics, and pharmaceutical processing require precise control over the composition of gases used in their processes. On-site nitrogen generation through compressed air systems offers enhanced quality control, as businesses can monitor and adjust the purity of the generated nitrogen in real-time and ensure stringent quality standards are maintained.

Long-term reliability

Compressed air systems designed for nitrogen generation are developed with durability and reliability in mind. Modern systems incorporate advanced technologies that ensure consistent performance over extended periods. Maintenance requirements are generally minimal, and routine upkeep can be integrated easily into existing maintenance schedules. 

Reduction in storage space

Storing nitrogen cylinders or tanks on-site can occupy significant floorspace and present logistical challenges with scheduling deliveries. In contrast, a compressed air-based nitrogen generation system requires minimal space, as it generates the gas on demand.

Not only could this help improve on-site productivity and ease the logistics of gas storage, but with forecasters predicting that energy prices will continue to rise, it could help to mitigate against future supply-chain issues too.


By harnessing this by-product of air compression, companies can not only save on costs but also improve productivity, contribute to sustainability, and secure a reliable supply of nitrogen for their operations.

Operators keen to learn more about on-site nitrogen generation can download a factsheet from the BCAS website or contact their BCAS supplier for further information.


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