How is nitrogen obtained?


Quick Answer

Nitrogen gas is primarily obtained by condensing air into a liquid and removing the liquid nitrogen in a process known as fractional distillation. There are other methods to obtain nitrogen, but this is the most common.

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Full Answer

Collected air is cooled to around -200 degrees Celsius and then slowly warmed to the boiling point of nitrogen, which is -195.79 C. As the gaseous nitrogen escapes, it is collected and then cooled into a liquid again so it can be stored.

Nitrogen is most commonly used in the creation of ammonia, which is used in fertilizers, cleaning products, explosives and in several industrial sectors like the paper industry, where it is used to turn wood into pulp. Nitrogen is also used in the creation of semiconductors, as a refrigerant and in the petroleum industry. Nitrous oxide, also created with nitrogen, is used as an anesthetic and as a performance enhancer for motor vehicles.

Nitrogen gas is odorless, tasteless and colorless and was first discovered in 1772 by Scottish chemist Daniel Rutherford. It makes up about 78 percent of the earth's atmosphere, is the fifth most common element in the universe and is found in all known living things as of 2014. Saturn's moon Titan has a dense atmosphere that is 98 percent nitrogen.

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