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In a typical organic chemistry laboratory, many substances are highly sensitive and reactive when exposed to water or oxygen. To avoid this unintended reactions, vessels are typically enclosed nitrogen gas is used to “purge” the container of any unwanted oxygen or water vapor. This helps ensure the proper conditions to run a successful reaction.

The same strategy can be applied to automobile tires.  Whether you own a car, truck, or bike, consider inerting tires with nitrogen instead of traditional air to improve the longevity and integrity of tires while keeping your passengers safe on the road. While skeptics like to point out that air consists of approximately 78% nitrogen, it also contains oxygen and water vapor along with various unknown gases and impurities. Nitrogen is an inert gas and has higher purity than air, which allows automobile owners to know exactly what is in their tires.

To inert a tire with nitrogen gas, you will need an inertion chamber or a tank of nitrogen. Some systems use the permeation principle to selectively separate oxygen, water vapor, and other unknown gases from compressed air in order to isolate the nitrogen gas.  A specially designed membrane composed of hollow fibers is used to remove the unwanted gases to improve the quality and purity of the nitrogen gas, which can be stored until it is needed.

It is rather straightforward to inert tires with nitrogen gas. Once you remove the valve, use the nitrogen gas tank to inert the tire with about 50-75% of nitrogen gas (about 5 lb of pressure) to ensure there’s sufficient nitrogen to saturate the air space inside the tire. As the nitrogen enters the tire, it will begin to displace any air, oxygen, or water vapor that is inside. When this happens, allow the tire blow out any air, you are effectively “purging” the tire of unwanted gases and air. Finally, continue inerting the tire with nitrogen gas until it reaches the desired pressure.

Next time you need to refill your tires, think like a chemist and inert your tires with nitrogen. This will help prolong the life of your tires, keep your vehicle functioning well, and enhance the safety of you and your passengers.


Post Author: Stacy Chin Ph.D.

Ph.D. in Polymer Chemistry from Boston University. Special emphasis in biochemistry, biomaterials, polymer synthesis, and translational research. She has many articles published in high impact peer review journals.

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