ATLANTA-Inflating tires with nitrogen rather than air is hardly a new idea. But Air Products and Chemicals Inc. of Allentown, Pa., has introduced a new nitrogen-generating system the company says will make the once-costly concept commercially practical. Proponents have suggested nitrogen as a superior replacement for air in tires since the 1960s. But until recently, the cost of the inert gas has been a major obstacle to its widespread acceptance by the motoring public.
Denser than oxygen, nitrogen diffuses through rubber 40 percent more slowly than air. This makes it less likely to leak out of the tire cavity to cause costly and potentially damaging underinflation.
This particular benefit of nitrogen inflation should appeal to those aware of the need for checking tire pressure and concerned about their own failure to do so. Other benefits include nitrogen's stability under extremes of hot and cold and the fact that it won't rust or corrode rims as traditional air inflation can do.
Air Products, during the recent National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association's Atlanta convention, debuted its new ``UltraFill Tire Inflation System'' which produces nitrogen from air right on the dealer's premises.
This eliminates the need for buying containerized gas, thereby significantly reducing the cost of nitrogen inflation.
The company's nitrogen generating system, which can either be rented or purchased outright, employs no moving parts and may be used in combination with an existing air compressor.
It uses ``membrane technology'' to separate the nitrogen from the oxygen and water vapor commonly found in air.
Slender fibers, similar to those used in kidney dialysis, carry away the water and oxygen which are then vented harmlessly back into the atmosphere.
Nitrogen, which does not pass as easily through the fibers, remains behind to be diverted into a storage tank and used to inflate the tires to their normally recommended pressures.
Nitrogen, an inert, noncombustible and noncorrosive gas, is mandated by U.S. law for use in commercial and military aircraft tires. It also is commonly used in earthmover and mining equipment tires, Formula I, Indy and NASCAR race tires as well as automobile air bags.
Air Products said nitrogen inflation was commercially introduced to the Brazilian tire market two years ago and has since gained widespread acceptance in that country, where it is also being used by automakers Fiat and BMW.
Mario Moniz, marketing manager for rubber and plastics, said universal use of nitrogen inflation in the U.S. would help prevent the loss of some 2 million gallons of gasoline daily and the scrapping of 10 million tires annually due to underinflation.
Mr. Moniz estimated the cost of nitrogen inflation at less than a dollar in the case of a passenger tire. The relatively low cost of producing nitrogen with the system, he said, offers dealers the choice of either providing it as a free traffic-building customer service or selling it as a profitable add-on item.
Contact: Air Products and Chemicals Inc., 7201 Hamilton Blvd., Allentown, Pa. 18195; (800) 654-4567.