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PAugust 14, 2013

The Air We Breathe

I had an interesting conversation with a prospective new customer about harvesting the atmosphere, although in his words it was more accurately described as  “fractional distillation of liquid air in a cryogenic air separation unit.”  I know what you’re thinking…sounds like a lot of hot air!  The keyword in that sentence is air.  The simplest definition of air is the invisible gaseous substance surrounding the earth.”  And yes, it is that gaseous substance that we breathe in everyday hoping and praying that it is at least 20% oxygen!

"Interestingly, carbon dioxide is also naturally emitted from volcanoes, hot springs, geysers, deep in lakes and oceans, and commingled with oil and gas deposits."

“Interestingly, carbon dioxide is also naturally emitted from volcanoes, hot springs, geysers, deep in lakes and oceans, and commingled with oil and gas deposits.”

On a political note, our exhale (to the chagrin of some folks) is carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, if you are a living organism on Earth you discharge carbon dioxide 24/7 for life!  But without carbon dioxide, plants would be unable to produce oxygen as a waste product.  Interestingly, carbon dioxide is also naturally emitted from volcanoes, hot springsgeysers, deep in lakes and oceans, and commingled with oil and gas deposits. Combustion of coal or hydrocarbons, the fermentation of sugars in beer and the all-important process of wine making also contribute to CO2 emissions.  We have been bombarded with scientific theory about too much carbon dioxide, taxing carbon dioxide and even shutting down coal fired power plants that provide almost 45% of all power generated in the USA to save the planet from CO2 emissions. But plenty of doubt still exists in the scientific community and consider this…forest fires can contribute more to CO2 in the atmosphere than man.  And some (mostly in California) may say that global warming causes forest fires.  Most of us know however that lightning, Bic lighters, an errant campfire, spontaneous combustion and even a Marlboro in the wind are the real culprits.

But let’s get back to the air we breathe. Our atmosphere is broken down as follows: The big three!

  1. Nitrogen                                  78.084%
  2. Oxygen                                  20.9476%
  3. Argon                                           .934%

What’s left? I will do the math,  .0344%. So if you broke a hundred dollar bill into the “what’s left” you get a little under 3.5 pennies. But what’s left?

  1. Carbon Dioxide                               .03140%
  2. Neon                                               .0018180%
  3. Helium                                            .0005240%
  4. Methane (ugh)                                 .0001790%
  5. Krypton                                           .0001140%
  6. Hydrogen                                        .000055%
  7. Xenon                                             .0000325%
  8. Ozone                                             .0000070%

But wait…there is still more, but I can’t read all the zeros or the 10 to the power ofs! So trust me, these are considered trace gases.

  1. Nitrogen Dioxide
  2. Iodine
  3. Carbon Monoxide
  4. Ammonia
  5. Sulfur Dioxide
Carl von Linde

Carl von Linde

The theory of being able to separate Nitrogen, Oxygen and Argon et al goes back to François-Marie Raoult in 1882 with a dramatic revelation that is known as Raoult’s Law…aptly named!  The technology that today provides our much-needed industrial and medical gasses is based upon this law and the engineering genius of Carl von Linde who developed the Linde double-column process for liquefying air.  So the next time you see an oxygen tanker on its way to deliver life saving oxygen remember to thank both Mr. Raoult and Mr. von Linde and the entrepreneurial companies that heavily invest their own capital in farming the atmosphere.

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