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Oxygen, or O2, which comprises 21 percent of the earth's atmosphere, supports life and makes combustion possible. The most abundant of all elements on earth, oxygen comprises 85 percent of its oceans and, as a component of most rocks and minerals, 46 percent of its solid crust. In addition, it constitutes 60 percent of the human body.

Colorless, odorless and tasteless, oxygen has poor solubility in water. A specific gravity of 1.105 makes it slightly heavier than air. When cooled to its boiling point of -297°F (-183°C), oxygen becomes a transparent, pale blue liquid that is slightly heavier than water.

Oxygen reacts with all elements, except inert gases, to form compounds called oxides. The rate of reaction - known as oxidation - varies. For example, magnesium oxidizes very rapidly, igniting spontaneously in air. However, noble metals, such as gold and platinum, oxidize only at very high temperatures.

Although oxygen itself is nonflammable, it enhances combustion and enables all materials that are flammable in air to burn much more vigorously. These combustion-supporting properties account for its use in many industrial applications.

Production of Oxygen

Oxygen, the second-largest volume industrial gas, is produced commercially as a gas or as a liquid by several methods. These include:

  • Cryogenic Air separation, a process that compresses and cools atmospheric air, then, - relying on different boiling points - separates the resulting liquid into its components in a distillation column.
  • Vacuum Pressure Swing Adsorption (VPSA), a non-cryogenic technology that produces oxygen from air by using an adsorbent in a pressure swing process to remove nitrogen.

  • Steel Manufacturing to enrich air and increase combustion temperatures in blast and open hearth furnaces; to raise steel temperatures and enhance recycling of scrap metal in electric arc furnaces; and to replace coke as the combustible in steel making.
  • Chemical Processing to alter the structure of feedstock's through oxidation, producing nitric acid, ethylene oxide, propylene oxide, vinyl chloride monomer and other building block chemicals; and to increase capacity and destruction efficiency of waste incinerators.
  • Pulp and Paper to help manufacturers meet stringent environmental regulations in a variety of mill processes including demagnification, bleaching, oxidative extraction, chemical recovery, white/black liquor oxidation and lime kiln enrichment.
  • Metal Production to replace or enrich air, increasing combustion temperatures in ferrous and non-ferrous metals production; to create a hot flame in high-temperature welding torches used in cutting and welding.
  • Metal Fabrication to support oxy fuel cutting operations. Sometimes added in small quantities for shielding gases.
  • Glass Manufacturing to enhance combustion in glass furnaces and fore hearths, reducing nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions to levels below new stringent requirements.
  • Petroleum Recovery and Refining to reduce viscosity and improve flow in oil and gas wells to increase capacity of fluid catalytic cracking plants as well as to facilitate use of heavier feedstock's and to reduce sulfur emissions in refineries.
  • Health Services to resuscitate or, in combination with other gases, to anesthetize; but also essential to life-support systems used in emergencies or long-term treatment of patients with respiratory disorders.
  • Utilities to convert coal to electricity for power generation.

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