Carbon DIoxide, CO2, or Super-Gas?

Noble Gas Solutions is a trusted supplier of carbon dioxide to Albany and surrounding areas.

Most people not affiliated with the industrial gas industry are familiar with carbon dioxide, CO2, as the gas used to carbonate soft drinks and as the chemical in fire extinguishers. CO2 is used in more forms than any other gas in the industrial gas market making it one of the most versatile products sold

Brief History

At the start of the 1600’s, CO2 was discovered as the product of wood burning by a Finnish scientist named Jan Baptista von Helmont. In the mid 1700’s an English chemist named Joseph Priestly, discovered sparkling water through the process of combining water and CO2 dissipated from a fermentation process which altered the water’s taste and was the driving force behind the start of the soft drink industry.

One of the characteristics of the gas that was found was its ability to be easily liquefied. This resulted in it becoming the first commercial industrial gas to be sold as a packaged gas. As more was understood, CO2 became the only gas sold and employed in all three of its phases – gas, liquid and solid.

Gas

Most of us in the industry associate CO2 with the food and beverage industry for its use as a refrigerant or as a shielding gas in welding. There are also additional unique properties of CO2 that contribute to its versatility .

The best example is when CO2 comes in contact with water and it forms carbonic acid. Although it is not the strongest acid, it is an acid nonetheless and has the ability to modify the pH in certain applications where the pH is a relevant system parameter. This is the case in certain industries such as paper production, textiles, and water treatment processes. One more plus is that carbonic acid is not stored as an acid (such as sulfuric or hydrochloric acids). As mentioned, the CO2 needs water to form the acid so it remains CO2 until needed and is not considered hazardous like other acids.

Liquid

CO2 is stored as a liquid regardless of the container. The pressure in an uninsulated CO2 cylinder is somewhere around 800 psig depending on the atmospheric temperature. This means that any application using liquid CO2 has be under pressure. Employees in the oil industry are aware can compensate for water in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) where the liquid is combined with sand or sand like substance (proppant) and propelled through an oil well to recover oil that has been trapped between layers of rock. EOR is a blanket term to describe different applications but the most prominent is fracking. In fracking a propant is pushed into rocks rich with oil with the use of man-made devices. This leads to the fracture of the rock and the subsequent release of the oil inside of it. When using CO2 as an alternative to water, its natural expansion of volume from liquid to gas makes the fissure larger and helps recover additional oil.

Many people are not aware that liquid CO2 is also applied in dry cleaning. In a special high pressure washer, liquid CO2 is introduced with a stain remover. The laundry is treated as in a regular washing machine employing turbulence to clean the wash. When the cycle is done, the dirt, grime and stain remover are separated from the liquid CO2. The liquid CO2 is then taken out to be recycled and when the clothing is taken out and is clean and not wet since there was no water applied.

Every chemical (element or compound) has a state in which the three phases (gas, liquid and solid) have the same attributes and is attained adjusting the pressure and temperature; this is referred to as the supercritical state. The supercritical state of CO2 can be created in a specifically designed processor. Because it is an excellent solvent, CO2 in its fluid phase is used to extract fragrances and color from flowers and plants. This method calls for unique tools and equipment and is executed under high pressure.

Solid

Solid CO2 or dry ice is applied in a wide variety of methods as a coolant. When liquid CO2 is transported through a high pressure line and discharged through special nozzles, it instantly becomes CO2 snow and utilized to refrigerate and freeze food. Dry ice pellets act as a replacement for regular ice in bins that hold perishables on long trips via roadways.

Extremely small pieces of dry ice are (about the size of a grain of rice) employed as an abrasive to rid surfaces of coatings without harming the surface itself by shooting the rice size pellets through a blasting lance. This is prominent in the aircraft industry where an airplane’s body has to maintain its integrity and cannot tolerate any damage that would occur with sand blasting. This is also advantageous because is that the removed coating does not require separating from the abrasive as the pellets sublimate to CO2 gas leading to a cleanup that is quite easy.

Calling CO2 a super-gas may be controversial, but it is easily the most versatile product available in the industrial gas market.

To learn more about how you can get carbon dioxide in Albany for any of your specialty gas operations, call Noble Gas Solutions at (518) 465-5229 or at sales@noblegassolutions.com.

John Segura, PE

About the Author

John Segura is a licensed Professional Engineer and a seasoned executive in the industrial gas trade. He has been in the industry for over 30 years and is experienced in marketing, sales, and operations at both domestic and international levels. Segura has led teams of engineers and technicians as an R & D manager for major gas companies. His work directed him to lead the marketing efforts of technology worldwide industrial gas suppliers. Now, he acts as an industry consultant on the business specializing in operations, applications and marketing.