Gdańsk
South Baltic Gas Forum
5 - 9 September 2011, Gdańsk, Poland

Nitrogen

Apart from its use in fertilisers and energy-stores, nitrogen is a constituent of organic compounds as diverse as Kevlar used in high-strength fabric and cyanoacrylate used in superglue. Nitrogen is a constituent of every major pharmacological drug class, including antibiotics. Many drugs are mimics or prodrugs of natural nitrogen-containing signal molecules: for example, the organic nitrates nitroglycerin and nitroprusside control blood pressure by metabolizing into nitric oxide. Many notable nitrogen-containing drugs, such as the natural caffeine and morphine or the synthetic amphetamines, act on receptors of animal neurotransmitters.
For a long time, sources of nitrogen compounds were limited. Natural sources originated either from biology or deposits of nitrates produced by atmospheric reactions. Nitrogen fixation by industrial processes like the Frank-Caro process (1895-1899) and Haber-Bosch process (1908-1913) eased this shortage of nitrogen compounds, to the extent that half of global food production (see Applications) now relies on synthetic nitrogen fertilisers.[16] At the same time, use of the Ostwald process (1902) to produce nitrates from industrial nitrogen fixation allowed the large-scale industrial production of nitrates as feedstock in the manufacture of explosives in the World Wars of the 20th century.
Given the great reactivity of atomic nitrogen, elemental nitrogen usually occurs as molecular N2, dinitrogen. This molecule is a colourless, odourless, and tasteless diamagnetic gas at standard conditions: it melts at -210 ĄC and boils at -196 ĄC.Dinitrogen is mostly unreactive at room temperature, but it will nevertheless react with lithium metal and some transition metal complexes. This is due to its bonding, which is unique among the diatomic elements at standard conditions in that it has an N?N triple bond. Triple bonds have short bond lengths (in this case, 109.76 pm) and high dissociation energies (in this case, 945.41 kJ/mol), and are thus very strong, explaining dinitrogen's chemical inertness.
Nitrogen compounds constantly interchange between the atmosphere and living organisms. Nitrogen must first be processed, or "fixed", into a plant-usable form, usually ammonia. Some nitrogen fixation is done by lightning strikes producing the nitrogen oxides, but most is done by diazotrophic bacteria through enzymes known as nitrogenases (although today industrial nitrogen fixation to ammonia is also significant). When the ammonia is taken up by plants, it is used to synthesise proteins. These plants are then digested by animals who use the nitrogen compounds to synthesise their own proteins and excrete nitrogen„bearing waste. Finally, these organisms die and decompose, undergoing bacterial and environmental oxidation and denitrification, returning free dinitrogen to the atmosphere. Industrial nitrogen fixation by the Haber process is mostly used as fertiliser, although excess nitrogen„bearing waste, when leached, leads to eutrophication of freshwater and the creation of marine dead zones, as nitrogen-driven bacterial growth depletes water oxygen to the point that all higher organisms die. Furthermore, nitrous oxide, which is produced during denitrification, attacks the atmospheric ozone layer.
Nitrogen gas is an industrial gas produced by the fractional distillation of liquid air, or by mechanical means using gaseous air (pressurised reverse osmosis membrane or pressure swing adsorption). Nitrogen gas generators using membranes or pressure swing adsorption (PSA) are typically more cost and energy efficient than bulk delivered nitrogen. Commercial nitrogen is often a byproduct of air-processing for industrial concentration of oxygen for steelmaking and other purposes. When supplied compressed in cylinders it is often called OFN (oxygen-free nitrogen).[66] Commercial-grade nitrogen already contains at most 20 ppm oxygen, and specially purified grades containing at most 2 ppm oxygen and 10 ppm argon are also available.

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