Whilst the flow for nitrogen pressure swing adsorption (PSA) in the areas of reflow soldering and laser processing is declining, the market for nitrogen generators for use on transportation tankers looks set to rise steadily.

Taiyo Nippon Sanso Corporation (TNSC) anticipates sales of Y900m, with sales of 22 nitrogen PSA units in this area alone. Takeshi Hayashi, Manager of the Equipment Sales Division with the company, noted that expanded use of the PSA units on LPG vessels and chemical tankers and the dramatically increased capacity requirements as a result has contributed to this demand.

Two of TNSC’s competitors, Kuraray Chemical and Air Water, are developing strategies to capitalise on this growing market and secure sales streams from potential clients, adding specialised equipment for these tankers to their existing product portfolio.

Recent demand
Nitrogen is used in purging systems that prevent explosions on tankers transporting highly flammable cargo, such as crude oil, chemicals and gas. The SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) treaty requires inert gas facilities to be installed on tankers with a dead-weight of over 200,000 tonnes.

However, for the safety of those on the vessels, tankers that have a high risk of fire, such as those that transport LPG, install inert gas facilities despite being outside the requirements of the treaty. Until recently, demand for nitrogen generators has been limited to those vessels and supplied using membrane separators in inert gas systems (IGS).

However, the need to generate pure nitrogen for use on chemical tankers and a global tightening of supply of membrane modules has contributed to a rise in demand for PSA technologies.

Changing technologies
Development on the part of the emerging BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) nations has led to the steady growth in demand for nitrogen, generated by the membrane separators, for use in the natural gas and oil fields.

In addition, Air Products is expanding its supply capacity having secured a contract with Boeing for the company’s next generation airliner, the 787, which is to use only nitrogen membranes on its fuel tanks.

With restricted production of membrane separators over recent years, and some producers delaying delivery until 2010, demand for PSA technologies has increased despite costing around 30% more than membrane IGS’s.