Full-service supplier of air separation plants, oxygen and nitrogen generators and CO2 plants. Gas & liquid supplier to end users and to distributors of bulk liquids & packaged gases. Air: Source of the industrial gas products oxygen, nitrogen and argon

Supply and Distribution of Industrial Gases
Production & Delivery Methods for Oxygen, Nitrogen and Other Gases

Various delivery methods have been developed by the industrial gas industry to meet the needs of a wide variety of users of nitrogen, oxygen, argon and compressed air.

This page discusses various options and provides some guidance regarding the supply mode most likely to be most cost effective.

The most important factors influencing the choice of supply and delivery options for users of nitrogen, oxygen or other industrial gas products are the average consumption rate, short and longer term usage rate variation patterns, and the purity of product which are required to meet customer needs at a particular site..

Cylinders Tube Trailer Liquid Trailer Customer Station Onsite Plant
  • Very small volume users of single gases or gas mixtures will typically purchase the products they need in cylinders from distributors of packaged gases. 

  • Users with somewhat higher demand will purchase liquid products that are stored at their site (in appropriately sized storage tanks) and vaporized as needed.

  • Higher volume users will be most economically served by on-site gas production or pipeline supply.

As customer demand changes over time, the optimal supply mode may shift from one production and distribution combination to another. By choosing a new production and delivery option when the optimal mode changes, customers will benefit by declines in the average unit cost for industrial gas products. 

While it would be ideal for customers to be able to shift modes as soon a different supply arrangement would be more cost effective, this is not usually possible due to contract provisions which define a supply period and call for advance notice if a change in contract terms is desired. 

Customers which are experiencing significant growth or decline in usage should consider the likelihood that making a change in supply mode and/ or supplier may be in their best interest in the near future.  If that may be the case, UIG and UCG have tips for companies which want to prepare for potential changes in their supply system and / supplier.

Although  there are many factors to consider as average demand changes, one piece of advice is paramount to ensure there is an opportunity to define and consider new options: Start well in advance of the end date for your current supply agreement - at least two, and preferably about three years in advance.   


On-site gas production of gas and pipeline delivery can cut the unit cost of nitrogen or oxygen gas by as much as one half versus use of truck-delivered bulk liquid only.  Appropriately-designed onsite gas supply systems can cost effectively and reliably service a wide range of user demand rates and usage patterns.

Current liquid product users which consume more than a trailer load of liquid products per day should investigate the savings typically available by switching to an onsite gas production system to supply some or all of the required product. Those consuming more than two trailer loads per day will find the savings to be substantial. 

Onsite gas supply options are cost effective for most users because most purchasers of bulk liquid products do not use the product in liquid form. They purchase liquid only because they use gaseous product at a rate that is (or once was) in the  range where bulk liquid delivery is (or was) a cost effective and convenient supply mode.

Gaseous nitrogen or oxygen users, which purchase (and then vaporize) liquid products, pay for the cost of liquefying the product, the cost of transporting it to their site, and for transfer losses which can be avoided by producing the gas they need at their own site.

Only a few liquid customers use the intense refrigeration that can be obtained from cryogenic liquid products.  These are typically companies which use liquid nitrogen or liquid CO2 in applications such as food freezing or cryogenic grinding which require both an inert atmosphere and very cold temperature. Users in these categories could be candidates for an onsite liquid plant which would save them money and eliminate periodic production disruptions caused by liquid transportation problems. 


Supply Modes / Options for Gas Users:

Very small volume users, in particular those with multiple small volume usage points that may be periodically relocated, rely on high pressure cylinders.  Cylinder gases distribution is inherently a locally-focused business. Most of the larger integrated industrial gas companies have reduced their direct involvement in this business segment in recent years.

Cylinder gases are often distributed by independent distributors (of varying sizes) that buy merchant gases in bulk liquid form from producers and package the gases into cylinders in their facilities.

These businesses have typically focused on the welding industry, and handle a full line of welding-related products.  Increasingly, cylinder gases, in particular oxygen and oxygen mixes, are being used for home medical uses, and specialty stores focused on that market have become more common.  Depending upon customer needs and preferences, distributors may deliver cylinders to the customer’s site or customers may return used cylinders and pick up new ones at a specialty store.

Small to medium size customers are often use vaporized liquid as their source of nitrogen, oxygen and argon.

In these systems, trucked-in bulk liquid product is transferred from delivery vehicles to a storage tank on the user's premises, then vaporized into a local distribution system. 

Depending upon customer demand level and location, the tank and vaporizer system may be installed by, and the account may be serviced by, a local independent distributor company, by the company which produces the liquid products used at the site, by the user.

Bulk liquid vaporization systems can accommodate a relatively wide range of average usage rates and are particularly suited to handling highly variable usage patterns. 

The cryogenic storage tank and vaporizer system that is installed on the customer site, near the usage point, is commonly called a customer station.  These items feed vaporized product to the customer's gas distribution system, which is held at relatively constant pressure by automatic controls which adjust the rate of liquid vaporization to track changing demand.

Each customer station storage tank typically holds between about 300 gallons (very small volume users) or as much as 15,000 gallons ( 1300 to 57,000 liters) - with larger tanks (or multiple tanks) used for higher volume customers.  Optimal tank sizing is determined by analyzing the user's current or anticipated product consumption pattern. The volume must be adequate to handle average and peak demands, and sufficient to allow for a cost-effective tank refilling schedule under normal operating conditions.

Customer station tanks and vaporizers are typically rented from the liquid supplier but they may be owned by the customer purchasing the liquid. UIG encourages companies to consider ownership of the customer station system as it enables users to change suppliers relatively easily if they are dissatisfied with their liquid supply service or pricing. 

When the storage and vaporizer system is rented from a major industrial gas supplier, users often discover that it is difficult to change suppliers.  Not only must the liquid user/ tank renter provide advance notice of intention to cancel existing liquid supply contracts, but they will almost certainly find that their customer station will need to be replaced by one owned by their new supplier.

Relatively large but temporary requirements are sometimes met with tube trailers (bundles of high pressure cylinders permanently mounted on a wheeled platform).

Common situations when tube trailers are used are testing of new equipment, process development and plant "turnaround" maintenance demands. 

"Onsite" plants
are often the most economical means of supplying oxygen and nitrogen customers that use more than about 20 tons per day of product (about 7  truckloads of liquid each week).  At higher consumption rates the savings versus using vaporized liquid can be dramatic.

Onsite supply systems utilize a  gas production plant which is erected on or close to the customer's site to supply most or all of the operating requirements through in-plant or local multi-plant distribution pipelines. 

To ensure a continuous supply of product when on-site production is disrupted due to power failures or maintenance requirements, onsite gas plants (oxygen or nitrogen generators) are integrated with customer stations that store backup liquid which can be vaporized into the distribution system when needed.

Backup systems have very rapid response times, therefor they also supplement onsite gas production when there is a sudden increase in demand. This allows the onsite production plant to operate at a slowly changing rate that tracks average demand, while still being able to accommodate usage spikes. Users switching from bulk liquid product to onsite production will find that, after an onsite plant is installed and operating, liquid usage will be a small fraction of previous consumption.

On-site gas (and liquid) supply systems may be owned and operated by UCG or they may be user-owned and operated.

Small to medium size users of oxygen or nitrogen that do not need high purity may find that their most economical supply alternative is product from a non-cryogenic gas generatorNon-cryogenic oxygen can be produced by two types of generators - PSA and VPSA (VSA) plants.  Oxygen VPSA technology is more cost effective for larger volumes and higher power cost areas.

Similarly, non-cryogenic nitrogen may be produced using membrane technology, or by a pressure-swing-adsorption (PSA) unit. A PSA with a supplemental purification step is an alternative to liquid deliveries when "liquid-like" gas purity is required.     

Nitrogen users with relatively low usage rates, which need high purity nitrogen may find that the most economical technology is a cryogenic “LIN assist” plant installed on their site. 

LIN-assist plants use a modified cryogenic production cycle that cost effectively produces most of the gaseous nitrogen that is required.  A relatively small amount of liquid nitrogen (typically in the range of 5 to 10% of the total volume of delivered nitrogen) is used on a continuous basis to provide process refrigeration for the distillation process that makes the on-site-produced nitrogen.  This vaporized liquid nitrogen mixes with the onsite-produced nitrogen gas and is routed to users. 

Nitrogen customers that need very high purity nitrogen, or very large volumes of nitrogen will normally find that the characteristics of a traditional cryogenic nitrogen generator provides the best fit with their operating patterns.

Oxygen users that need high purity product or relatively high volumes of product will need a traditional cryogenic air separation unit.  Cryogenic oxygen plants are available in low purity (about 95%) and high purity (99.6% +) models. Lower purity product is most commonly used in combustion and effluent treatment applications.  There are oxygen-only plants, and multi-product configurations (oxygen plus nitrogen and argon). 

Customers that are located close to several large volume users may have the option of receiving product from a multi-customer pipeline.  Regional pipelines offer economies of scale for production and low operating costs for the delivery system. The air separation plants that supply the regional pipeline are backed up by high pressure gas and liquid storage at production sites, and/or at individual consumption sites. 


Supply Options for Current Bulk Liquid Users:

While many industrial gas users receive product in bulk liquid form, only a few actually need liquid for their day-to-day operations.  Food freezers, tire recyclers, companies that grind plastics or other heat-sensitive materials and some product testing facilities use liquid nitrogen's refrigeration content in their operations.  
Companies that need nitrogen gas, but do not use the refrigeration contained in the liquid nitrogen should investigate the savings potentially available by getting most or all of their supply from an on-site gaseous nitrogen generation system. 

While liquid storage and vaporization capability will still be required to meet peaks in demand and to back up the on-site generator; future liquid consumption should be a very small fraction of the pre-onsite level. 

If a liquid storage tank is refilled more frequently than every two days, there is a good chance that a switch to onsite-produced gas will save money. 

Companies that use the refrigeration contained in liquid nitrogen have two potential sourcing options:
  • Cryogenic trailer trucks.  The most common supply mode. 

  • Onsite liquid plant. 

UCG onsite liquid plants offer two significant advantages

  • Lower cost product due to the total avoidance of transportation costs and transportation losses.
  • Excellent protection against supply disruptions caused by transportation problems; because of the large liquid inventory that will be maintained on site. 


How much liquid does my plant have to use to be an onsite liquid plant candidate?

Very large users of liquid (those using more than three truckloads of liquid a day, which is about 60 tons per day or 50 million SCF/ month) are definitely candidates for an onsite liquid plant.

Companies which consume as little as one or two truckloads a day of liquid are also candidates.

Lower volume liquid users may be economically supplied from an onsite liquid plant when their demand, combined with that of other local users, is sufficient to support an economically viable "piggyback" liquid products plant serving multiple users.  UIG welcomes inquiries from potential clients who are interested in investigating onsite liquid production; and will work with them, nearby industrial gas users and local distributors of liquid products to determine the feasibility for building a multi-customer liquid plant and the optimal plant sizing.

Air Separation



Universal Industrial Gases, Inc.
Universal Cryo Gas, LLC
3001 Emrick Blvd, Suite 320

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania 18020, USA

Phone (610) 559-7967 Fax (610) 515-0945

All material contained herein Copyright 2003 / 2016 UIG.