Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 4

1

AIR SEPARATION
UNITS:
HOW THEY WORK
WHAT IS AN ASU?
An Air Separation Unit (ASU) is a plant that separates air from the atmosphere into its primary
components (nitrogen and oxygen) though cryogenic (extremely cold) distillation. ASUs are
used to supply a variety of industries with purified gases. Some are even built on site (directly
as part of the customers operation).
APPLICATIONS OF PURIFIED GASES
Atmospheric gases serve a wide variety of industries and applications. Hospitals require high
purity medical grade oxygen for a range of instruments and treatments. Patients may even
require portable, personal-sized oxygen tanks. Liquid nitrogen can be used as a coolant for heat
exchange in industrial processes. Furthermore, it is used to keep produce and other foods fresh
for long-term storage. A more rare and expensive gas, helium serves a vital role in operating
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment.

THE PROCESS
Carl von Linde, a German scientist and engineer, first developed the process for industrial-scale
gas separation in 1895. Today a number of large corporations use this method in their plants.
The process of an ASU consists of seven major stages: intake, filtration, compression, cleaning,
cooling, separation, and filling.
INTAKE
Air is first brought into the unit from the atmosphere. This is referred
to as the intake of the unit. Incoming air consists primarily of nitrogen
(78%) and oxygen (21%). The remaining 1% consists mostly of argon
and carbon dioxide along with trace (rare) gases such as helium and
krypton. Figure 1 illustrates the typical concentrations of
atmospheric gases.
Figure 1. Breakdown of air
composition [bbc.co.uk]
Logan Renninger | THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY

FILTRATION
The intake air is then passed through a filter. The filtration stage removes dust from the air
stream and prevents large particles from entering the rest of the system.
COMPRESSION
The filtered air is then passed through a compressor (a powerful industrial fan), which
pressurizes the gas to nearly six times atmospheric pressure. The compression stage causes the
gas to heat up as work (energy) is added to the system. There are many types of compressors.
Figure 2 shows the schematic of a simple belt compressor in which a motor is used to turn a
wheel causing a piston to oscillate which results in a pressure drop (driving force for fluids).

Figure 2. Diagram of a belt-driven compressor

CLEANING
During the cleaning process, the compressed air is purged of any impurities such as carbon
dioxide, water vapor, and hydrocarbons. This is achieved by passing the stream through a
molecular sieve bed. A molecular sieve is a screen with incredibly small pores. The pore sizes
are designed to allow the passage of small diatomic molecules (N2 and O2) while excluding
larger molecules like carbon dioxide (O=C=O) and hydrocarbon chains [CH3-(CH2)n-CH3].
Charcoal is commonly used as a molecular sieve in large adsorber beds, which act as the
cleaning stage for many industrial processes.
COOLING
The hot compressed gas stream is pre-cooled with a series of heat exchangers, which use
cooling water to decrease the temperature of the hot stream. Then the air stream is expanded
in an expansion turbine. Turbines work in the opposite manner of a compressor. They extract

Logan Renninger | THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY

work from the system allowing the gas to cool as it expands. It is in this phase that liquefaction
(converting gas to liquid) occurs and the gases are prepared for separation.
SEPARATION
The method by which oxygen and nitrogen are separated is called cryogenic distillation.
Distillation is a separation process that takes advantage of the difference in boiling points of its
components. This is the same principle that is used to distill alcohol. Because nitrogen and
oxygen are both gases at room temperature, the mixture must be brought to an extremely low
temperature to reach below the boiling point of oxygen (-298 oF). The term cryogenic refers to
operations which occur at such low temperatures.
Nitrogen, which has a lower boiling point than oxygen (-320 oF), resides primarily in the gaseous
phase and accumulates near the top of the distillation column. Liquid oxygen accumulates in
the bottom where it is drained into a separate tank. The nitrogen collected from the top is then
condensed and stored as a liquid in another separate tank. The tanks are vacuum insulated to
prevent the liquids from re-vaporizing. Consisting of two walls with no air in between to
conduct heat, the vacuum insulation allows the tank to act like a giant thermos. Figure 3 depicts
a process flow diagram for a cryogenic distillation process which consists of a nitrogen removal
column (left) followed by an argon removal column (right). Here the key components and
streams labeled.

Figure 3. Process flow diagram of a typical cryogenic distillation column [chemicalprocessing.com]

Logan Renninger | THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY

FILLING
From bulk storage tanks, the liquid is drained into
refrigerated trucks and vans with a cryogenically insulated
hose as shown in Figure 4. Like the bulk storage tanks
themselves, these vehicles are also vacuum-insulated. The
products can now be transported across the country to
plants, hospitals, and even residences for home delivery.

Figure 4. Filling site for liquid gas


transportation [linde-gas.ru]

WORKS CITED
1. Air Separation Plants. Linde Engineering. The Linde Group, 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.
2. Atmospheric Gases. Linde Industrial Gases. The Linde Group, 2016. Web. 24. Mar. 2016.
3. The Linde Group, Linde. "The Air Separation Process Unit Perspective." YouTube.
YouTube, 27 Aug. 2014. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

Logan Renninger | THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY