Using nitrogen gas in the food & beverage market and wine-making process will protect the wine from the negative effects of oxygen. The presence of oxygen promotes the growth of yeast and aerobic bacteria, which can cause spoilage and alter the aroma, color, and taste of the final product. Nitrogen, however, displaces oxygen and therefore eliminates oxygen's negative impact. It is common for winemakers to use nitrogen when purging or blanketing tanks, racking barrels, flushing bottles, and at any point where the wine comes in contact with air.
Sources of nitrogen
The two ways for a winemaker to obtain nitrogen are:
- Delivery from an outside supplier
- In-house generation using a nitrogen gas generator
Drawbacks to delivered nitrogen
Many wineries today receive deliveries of nitrogen in high-pressure cylinders or dewars from outside suppliers on a set schedule. There are, however, drawbacks to this approach. For example, delivered nitrogen is subject to price increases, rental agreements, OSHA requirements, hazardous material fees, delivery surcharges, and local and state taxes. Problems such as scheduling conflicts, delivery delays, or the sudden need to meet increased production can slow down operations.
Another issue with relying on a delivered nitrogen supply is the need to manage contracts with bulk gas suppliers and deal with automatic renewals, automatic increases, or one year written notice requirements for contract termination. Bulk tanks, including the required concrete pad, fence, and permit fees, can also be expensive.
This all adds up to extra administrative work and higher operational costs. The delivery approach also doesn’t fit the trend toward lean production techniques and developing fewer, more efficient supply chains.
Benefits of in-house nitrogen generation
An alternative approach to having nitrogen delivered by an outside supplier is to generate nitrogen in-house. This eliminates the administrative hassle of dealing with nitrogen delivery and constantly wondering if you have enough nitrogen for your operations.
A nitrogen gas generator, which separates nitrogen and oxygen from a compressed air supply, is a very cost-effective way to supply nitrogen for a wine-making operation. Benefits include:
- Long-term price stability
- No contract administration with bulk gas suppliers
- Reliable, long-term supply of nitrogen in-house
- No supply shortage, especially when production increases
- More cost-effective and reliable compared to tank delivery
Simple to operate, easy to maintain
Nitrogen gas generators are easy to install, start up, test, and run. Nitrogen gas generation is a well established, straightforward technology that is simple for staff to operate. Generators are designed for 24/7 trouble-free operation. Units can be built to match the flow rate requirements (usually measured in cubic feet per hour) for different sized wineries. New models also better withstand harsh cellar environments. The aluminum cabinet enclosures are corrosion-resistant and lightweight, allowing the units to be rolled easily from location to location as needed. All that is required for hookup is a power source and an air line from the compressor.
On-site generators such as the Parker Balston WineMaker Series provide 98 to 99.9 percent pure, dry nitrogen, with high precision, digital metering devices and flow controls that are easy to adjust in real time. To ensure the highest purity, these generators utilize pressure swing absorption (PSA) technology, which transports the gas through a carbon molecular sieve (CMS) composed of individual carbon pellets. Proprietary “pressure equalization” technology protects the pellets from premature degradation, enhancing performance and longevity, and reducing costs. Routine maintenance requirements are minimal, and kits are available that allow staff to replace filters and O-rings.
Payback on investing in a nitrogen gas generator is typically about 12-18 months, after which the nitrogen gas produced is essentially free. Lease-to-own programs are available from one-year to six-years.
Higher quality, lower costs
In-house nitrogen gas generation is the most effective way to neutralize the negative effects of oxygen in the wine-making process. Not only does it make for a more consistent product, in-house gas generation is more cost-effective and simplifies the production process.
View this video of winemakers discussing the benefits of generating nitrogen in-house for purging or blanketing tanks, racking barrels, and flushing bottles.
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Article contributed by David Connaughton, product marketing manager, Parker Hannifin Gas Separation and Filtration Division
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