It's All About Oxygen Enrichment

Oxygen Enriched Environments

October 16, 2023

Oxygen is one of the most abundant elements on earth — it comprises approximately 50.5% of the Earth’s crust and 20.95% of dry air by volume. A highly reactive element, it is an oxidizing agent that reduces other reactants to oxides in exothermic reactions.

Oxygen enrichment allows you to harness and leverage these properties to improve your processes, which can result in significant cost savings and increased throughput. This guide will explain everything you need to know about oxygen enrichment, including how you can take advantage of it to improve your operations.

What is oxygen enrichment?

Oxygen enrichment is a catch-all term for what happens when a substance contains an elevated concentration of oxygen. Essentially, oxygen enrichment is the opposite of oxygen deficiency, which is when an atmosphere contains little oxygen by volume.

Oxygen enrichment can be created in various industries. For example, oxygen-fueled processes like gas welding and cutting can release excess oxygen into the air, raising its concentration and resulting in an oxygen-enriched environment.

A well-ventilated space is essential for maintaining safety in oxygen-enriched confined spaces due to the element’s high reactivity and flammability. Additionally, installing an oxygen monitor helps detect accidental oxygen enrichment in your facility.

At What Level Does an Environment Become Oxygen Enriched?

Our normal atmosphere contains 20.8-21% oxygen. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines an oxygen-enriched atmosphere as one with an oxygen concentration of 22% or higher.

Intentionally raising the oxygen concentration can be beneficial for many operations and processes There are three oxygen enrichment levels:

  1. Low: Less than 28% oxygen by volume
  2. Medium: Between 28-45% oxygen by volume
  3. High: Greater than 45% oxygen by volume

The right enrichment level depends on the nature and scale of the application, but most situations call for either low- or medium-level oxygen enrichment. High-level oxygen enrichment is significantly harder to control than other levels, making it unsuitable for most purposes.

The Benefits of Oxygen Enrichment

Oxygen enrichment is a cost-effective way to improve processes because it does not require an investment in additional equipment. As long as you have a reliable oxygen supplier, you can leverage oxygen enrichment to boost performance and increase productivity.

The other benefits of using oxygen enrichment include:

  • More efficient combustion: Flue gas loses mass as it leaves an oxygen-enriched furnace, conserving heat and energy for the next combustion cycle.
  • Cost savings: Increased process efficiency and productivity means you can save on energy and materials.
  • Reduced emissions: Certain oxygen-fueled combustion furnaces can produce lower levels of harmful toxins, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and hydrocarbons.
  • Higher quality results: Because oxygen removes unwanted chemicals from the atmosphere by way of oxidation, creating an oxygen-enriched atmosphere can improve the quality of certain manufactured goods.
  • Optimized throughput in existing equipment: An oxygen-enriched atmosphere enables you to create the perfect conditions for maximum output.

Oxygen enrichment is useful for various industries, including aquaculture, metalworking, manufacturing, water and wastewater treatment, healthcare, and any other industry that regularly uses oxygenated processes.

Applications for Oxygen Enrichment

Most industrial applications, including combustion manufacturing, use liquid oxygen to increase oxygen concentration. Compressed oxygen gas is commonly used in other applications, such as breathing apparatus for divers and medical patients.

Some specific applications for oxygen enrichment include:

  • Increase SRU throughput: Sulfur recovery units (SRUs) use the oxygen-fueled Claus reaction to recover hydrogen sulfide (H2S) as elemental sulfur. Adding extra oxygen to the SRU accelerates these reactions, thus increasing unit output.
  • Purify air: By increasing the concentration of oxygen in an air stream, you can transform contaminants into carbon dioxide, water, and other harmless chemicals you can then either release into the atmosphere or recirculate.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen chambers: Oxygen enrichment can save lives in certain situations. Placing patients in oxygen-enriched hyperbaric oxygen chambers allows providers to treat life-threatening conditions, such as decompression sickness, carbon monoxide poisoning, embolisms, and many more.
  • Processing lean acid gases: A lean acid gas is high in carbon dioxide and low in hydrogen sulfide. Oxygen enrichment makes processing lean acid gases quicker and easier through oxidation.
  • Portable breathing apparatus: Using an oxygen tank while climbing to high altitudes can help relieve symptoms of oxygen deficiency in thin atmospheres, such as breathlessness, nausea, and confusion.
  • Elevate furnace temperatures: Adding low-nitrogen oxygen to your combustion furnace can help you reach higher temperatures and improve combustion efficiency while keeping emissions low.
  • Boost wastewater incineration: Oxygen enrichment increases combustion throughput by reducing the amount of inert nitrogen in the atmosphere. This increase in energy increases water evaporation and facilitates mixture separation.
  • Reduce gaseous emissions: Excess oxygen in the air oxidizes environmentally harmful substances, making it safe to vent and reducing your overall emissions.
  • Improve FCC processes: Oxygen enrichment technologies can significantly improve fluid catalytic cracker (FCC) unit capacity, which is typically limited by the capacity of its individual components.

Essentially, wherever oxygen is used as a fuel, slight oxygen enrichment can help improve your results with minimal investment.

Optimize and Secure Oxygen Enrichment Procedures with Linde

Linde is making our world more productive through our products and services. We tailor each concept to meet each of our customers’ unique requirements, regardless of industry or company size. Whether you operate in the healthcare, metal fabrication, or water treatment space, we are here to help you.

Contact Linde Today

You can rely on our oxygen enrichment technologies and quality liquid and compressed oxygen gas to help you get ahead of today’s competition and prepare to meet the future’s demands safely and sustainably.