How Is the Ideal Gas Law Used in Everyday Life?

By Staff WriterLast Updated Apr 3, 2020 7:27:30 PM ET

There are several applications of the ideal gas law in everyday life, including determining the amount of ventilation that facilities need for safe human use and estimating proper air pressure levels in airplane cabins.

Ideal gas laws demonstrate a relationship between volume, temperature and pressure for a combination of ideal gases. With the exception of some noble gases, such as helium and neon, the ideal gas law is not entirely accurate in describing these relationships. Although estimations using the ideal gas law are approximate, they are still close enough in many cases.

Ideal Gas Laws in Planes and Buildings
One environment where ideal gas laws are useful is in commercial buildings. Ventilation units must be installed in any commercial building where air ventilation is not otherwise adequate enough to maintain a balance between the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in a building. The amount of ventilation that a building needs depends on the number of people in the building and their activity levels. Buildings with more human activity naturally need more ventilation than buildings where there are fewer people or fewer people moving around. Ideal gas laws are also at work in closed, sealed areas like airplanes where there must be a proper pressure balance between the air inside and outside the aircraft. Information on the average pressure in the cabin and the surrounding atmosphere, along with the percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere and the ideal gas laws, indicate how much oxygen is required to maintain the proper equilibrium between the air inside and outside the cabin and keep the air in the cabin fresh.

Ideal Gas Laws and Airbags
Another example of ideal gas laws in daily life involve airbags in vehicles. Ideal gas laws are responsible for the working mechanics of airbags. As airbags deploy, they fill quickly with the right kinds of gases to make them inflate and then inflate properly as the vehicle crashes. When airbags inflate, they are filled with nitrogen gas. The nitrogen gas is produced through a reaction with a substance called sodium azide. The nitrogen reaction produces several byproducts, which are nitrogen gas and sodium metal. Nitrogen gas is used to fill the airbags, while sodium metal becomes useful when it undergoes a reaction with potassium nitrate. This reaction neutralizes the sodium, which produces enough gas so that the airbag is inflated but not overfilled. Most vehicles have airbags that are located in front of the driver's seat and passenger seats, which protect occupants in the event of a head-on crash. Some vehicles also have airbags along the sides of the passenger seats, which are called side airbags. These airbags are usually located above the windows, and they help protect passengers' heads in the event of a crash.

Other Examples of Ideal Gas Laws
Ideal gas laws are found in many other situations in daily life. Ideal gas laws explain the workings of a gasoline engine. They also explain the mechanics of hot air balloons, which require the proper mixture and balance of gases to inflate safely and adequately. A torch is used to ignite gases in hot air balloons, which triggers the release of gases that make their envelopes inflate. Ideal gas laws are also at work in the process of inhalation as lungs expand upon inhalation but collapse again during exhalation. This process helps air rush into the lungs in order to keep living beings alive.