Industrial gases and production of rare gases
An air separation plant is designed to produce industrial gases: oxygen, nitrogen, argon, as well as the various rare gases such as krypton, xenon, neon and helium.
Oxygen was the first of the air separation products to be used commercially. It was the industrial demand for oxygen which prompted the development of air separation technologies.
All subsequent applications can be divided into two categories: oxygen which is used to intensify combustion in the steel industry, and oxygen which is used as an oxidizer in chemical processes.
Argon is used as a component of shield gases due to its inert characteristics. It is used in the fabrication of machinery equipment and in construction. For example, argon is used in arc welding and thermal metal cutting in a shielding gas atmosphere. Traditionally, ar¬gon has been used in the electronics industry and for instrument making (filling glow lamps and gas-discharge lamps, assembling criti¬cal instrumentation units). A considerable amount of argon is used in steelmaking and the hot working of metals and alloys.
Nitrogen is used as an individual component in chemical reactions (to produce ammonia, fertilizers, etc.), in downstream processes (nitriding of metal surfaces), and as an auxiliary component in the primary process. In the latter case, nitrogen acts not as a raw material but as a kind of "tool". Nitrogen is most often used as an inert medium, e.g. in the making of special steels and alloys, in oil refinery, glass industry, etc. In some cases liquid nitrogen is used rather than gas nitrogen, an example being deburring during metalworking. In this instance, liquid nitrogen serves as a cold source for metalworking (the temperature of liquid ni¬trogen is approx. -196 degrees C). Also, due to its inert property, nitrogen is used as a cooling agent in chemical reactions.