Nitrogen 101 – Membrane or Liquid?

Most nitrogen companies specialize in either liquid or membrane nitrogen.

Nitro-Lift Technologies has both Liquid and Membrane Nitrogen available and does both well.

Energy Sector and Industrial Nitrogen Primer

  • The atmosphere we breathe is 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen and 1% trace gases.
  • Energy and Industrial sectors have developed numerous applications where Nitrogen is an integral part of their processes.
  • Nitrogen due to its unique chemical makeup is inert and this property makes it ideal for use in many of these applications.
  • For industrial and commercial use Nitrogen must be separated (generated) from the oxygen in the air we breathe.
  • Liquid (Cryogenic) Nitrogen and Membrane (Non-Cryogenic) Nitrogen are the two main forms of nitrogen used in the energy industry for upstream, midstream and downstream applications.

Liquid (Cryogenic) Nitrogen

  • Liquid nitrogen is produced by cooling the air to the point it turns into a liquid (-196 degrees Celsius) and uses fractional distillation, which separates elements by their different boiling points.
  • This process occurs at a liquid nitrogen plant and is normally transported to customers as a super cooled liquid (-196C) in liquid nitrogen transport trucks.
  • Attributes:
    • Can deliver higher pressures and volumes for larger diameter pipeline applications
    • Nitrogen purity as high as 99.99%
  • Drawbacks:
    • More expensive than membrane nitrogen.
    • Requires more intense logistical planning for delivery to a jobsite from the plant.

Membrane (Non-Cryogenic) Nitrogen

  • Membrane nitrogen is generated by passing compressed air (atmosphere) through a bundle of hollow fibers (the size of a hair but with a hole down the center).
  • As the compressed air passes down the fiber length, the oxygen and trace gases are absorbed through the fiber wall and released back to atmosphere.
  • The nitrogen exits the end of the fiber and is collected and compressed for use downhole in an oil or natural gas well (upstream), a pipeline or gas plant (midstream) or a refinery (downstream).
  • Membrane nitrogen is effectively produced with purities of 95 – 99%.
  • Attributes:
    • Membrane nitrogen is generated at the jobsite from the atmosphere alleviating the logistical requirements of plant generated and transport delivered liquid nitrogen
    • Less expensive than liquid nitrogen
  • Drawbacks: Lower instantaneous rates than liquid nitrogen