Many laboratories still use high-pressure gas cylinders to provide gases for analytical equipment. The main reason for this dependence on gas cylinders is that this is the way it has always been done, and lab personnel are comfortable with the process. Lab managers may be unaware that there are hidden costs with cylinders that can add up fast and significantly increase overall laboratory operating expenses.
When factoring in these extra costs, why don’t lab managers consider a different way of delivering gas, such as in-house gas generation? In many cases, it is because lab personnel are busy and uncomfortable with change. They may think, “Why fix the system if it isn’t broken?”.
Switching to in-house gas generation eliminates the extra costs associated with gas cylinders. The money that is saved can be invested elsewhere to improve lab operations. Extra costs related to cylinders fall into five categories: safety, labor, administrative, infrastructure and operational costs.
It is hard to put a price tag on safety. Using compressed gas cylinders in the laboratory can be a dangerous situation if they are handled improperly. Many gases can be explosive, flammable, corrosive and toxic. Because cylinders are under high pressure (up to 2000 psi), sudden release of gas can endanger lab personnel - including the possibility of serious injuries from an explosion or asphyxiation.
Less serious safety risks include physical injuries from mishandling cylinders, especially to the hands, feet and lower back. These can result in high health-care bills, reduced worker productivity, insurance rate hikes and even litigation. There is always a risk with cylinders, no matter how slight.
It requires manpower to receive, handle, store and maintain high-pressure gas cylinders. Worker downtime can also result from the need to change tanks, or not having enough gas on hand, which interrupts testing. Cylinders also require periodic inspection, and it is an ongoing effort for workers to change, remove and recycle them.
Using gas cylinders requires contracts with vendors, inflexible delivery schedules, delayed deliveries, price increases, rental fees and contract changes - all of which consume hours of administrative time. Administrative employees must also deal with OSHA requirements and paperwork, hazardous material fees, delivery surcharges and local and state taxes.
High-pressure gas cylinders require special storage, such as a sheltered concrete pad with a fence and adequate security. Ideally, cylinders should be stored in a vertical position in a well-ventilated, above-grade, weather-proof storage area that is a safe distance from combustible materials, ignition sources or intense heat. Gases must also be stored according to hazard classifications. For example, incompatible gas types should be separated, which requires extra work.
When considering the above factors, as well as electricity used, maintenance, cylinder costs, demurrage, shipping, and inventory control, the costs of operating a tank delivery system quickly add up. For example, fees associated with using tanks (including delivery charges, hazmat fees, certificates of analysis, and telemetry) can total thousands of dollars by the end of the year.
The higher overall operational costs, risks and extra labor needs associated with gas cylinders can be eliminated with an in-house gas generation system, such as a Parker FID Gas Generator. Advantages include:
The cost of operating an in-house gas generator is extremely low - the only raw materials needed are air and electricity. Using in-house gas generation is significantly less expensive than operating a tank delivery system, and much safer. Return on investment takes only about 12 months, depending on the specific usage and required purity. This is a huge ongoing savings compared to the costs of tanks. Lease-to-own programs are also available.
This post was contributed by the Gas Generation Technology Blog Team, Parker Hannifin