Nitrogen and its compounds have numerous uses and applications, right from making incandescent bulbs and fertilizers to a number of medications. Here, a few of the most significant uses of this gas and its various compounds are discussed.
Did You Know?
Liquid nitrogen is used in the CPUs of computers, mainly to prevent them from heating up. It is used to cool infrared and X-ray detectors as well.
It is a chemical element with the atomic number 7. The symbol used for nitrogen is N. This colorless, tasteless, and odorless gas makes up about 78% of the Earth's atmosphere. The elemental nitrogen is mostly an inert gas at standard conditions for temperature and pressure.
Nitrogen was discovered in 1772, by the Scottish physician, Daniel Rutherford, who named it 'noxious air' or 'fixed air'. It can be found in all living organisms, as an essential building block of amino and nucleic acids.
Over the years, nitrogen and its compounds have found numerous applications in both industrial and pharmaceutical sectors.
More About Nitrogen
It is a non-metal element and an inert diatomic gas. Molecular nitrogen condenses or liquefies at 77 K or -195.8°C under normal atmospheric pressure. It freezes at 63 K or -210°C.
Elemental nitrogen is characterized by extremely strong chemical bonds, for which it is quite difficult to convert it to compounds. However, it is much easier to convert the nitrogen compounds into elemental nitrogen.
A large amount of energy is released by the nitrogen compounds, when they burn, explode, or decay back into nitrogen gas. Nitrogen is trivalent in most compounds, as it has five electrons in its outer shell.
In the industrial sector, nitrogen is usually produced by the fractional distillation of gaseous air. In the laboratory, it can be produced by treating an aqueous solution of ammonium chloride with sodium nitrite.
At standard pressure and temperature, it is chemically unreactive, and quite resilient to most acids, bases, oxidants, and reductants. It reacts spontaneously only with a few reagents.
Industrial Uses of Nitrogen
It has found several uses in the industrial sector, of which a few important uses are explained here.
Light Bulbs: It is often used in making light bulbs. It serves as an inexpensive substitute for argon in incandescent light bulbs.
Packaged Foods: It is used to preserve the freshness of packaged foods. It can prevent the oxidation of food, and thus delay rancidity and other forms of oxidative damage.
Fertilizers: Nitrogen is one of the most important ingredients in fertilizers, used for increasing soil fertility. It is used to make ammonia and urea, which are used as fertilizers to promote plant growth and increase yield.
Explosives: It can produce a range of unstable and highly reactive compounds, like nitrogen triiodide, ammonium nitrate, trinitrotoluene (TNT), nitric acid, and nitroglycerin. These compounds are used for making explosives.
Electronic Parts: Nitrogen is used for making a number of electronic parts, such as transistors, integrated circuits, and diodes.
Stainless Steel: Nitrogen is often used in manufacturing stainless steel, in order to make it stronger and more resistant to corrosion.
High Voltage Equipment: Dried and pressurized nitrogen gas is used as a dielectric gas for high voltage equipment.
Other Important Uses
Nitrogen is used for protecting inflammable and explosive materials by preventing their contact with oxygen. Such materials are usually placed in an airtight environment or container. The air inside the container is then replaced with nitrogen.
In military aircraft fuel systems, it helps reduce fire threat. Due to its inertness and lack of moisture, it is used in filling automotive and aircraft tires as well.
Sometimes, it is used in place of carbon dioxide for storing beer in pressurized kegs. Compared to carbon dioxide, nitrogen produces smaller bubbles, for which the beer become smoother in consistency.
Nitrogen is also used as a pressurizing gas to propel liquids through pipelines. In metal working operations, this gas is used to control the furnace atmosphere, while in metallurgy, it is employed for preventing the oxidation of metals.
Nitrogen is also used for pollution control, especially for eliminating volatile organic compounds from liquids. It can help remove harmful vapors and liquids from industrial equipment as well.
It has replaced carbon dioxide in many paintball guns (also known as paintball markers). Nowadays, nitrogen tanks are increasingly used as power sources for paintball guns.
The compound, nitrogen dioxide is an oxidizing agent that is used for bleaching flour. On the other hand, nitrous oxide, red fuming nitric acid, and dinitrogen tetroxide are used as rocket propellants.
Uses in the Pharmaceutical Sector
Nitrogen is a constituent of almost every major class of drugs, including antibiotics. As nitrous oxide, it is used as an anesthetic. Nitrous oxide is commonly known as laughing gas.
Under normal atmospheric pressure, nitrogen is a liquid at -196°C. Liquid nitrogen is used as a refrigerant. It is used in cryopreservation of biological samples, including blood and reproductive cells (sperms and eggs).
As liquid nitrogen is extremely cold, it is used in cryotherapy to destroy unwanted tissues. This therapy is mainly employed for removing skin lesions, like warts and actinic keratosis.
Nitrogen in Living Organisms
It can be found in both plants and animals. It is the constituent element of amino acids, which are the basic units of proteins. It is also a component of neurotransmitters and nucleic acids, such as DNA and RNA.
Nitrogen is immensely important for plant life as well. Plants require nitrogen for proper growth and development. In plants, it is a constituent of chlorophyll, the pigment which converts sunlight into energy. Nitrogen can be found in the leaves, roots, and grains.
However, plants cannot directly absorb atmospheric nitrogen. Instead, nitrogen in the atmosphere gets transformed into other compounds, which plants can absorb. Nitrogen cycle is the process by which atmospheric nitrogen undergoes several transformations.
So, nitrogen has found a wide range of applications in the modern world, due to its unique physical and chemical properties. Its inertness is probably the most important quality, for which it has found numerous uses and applications.