Without the proper gas handling system, even the highest quality specialty gas would be useless. Special care in the selection of gas system components ensures the gases get to their point of use without contamination or damaging the gas use system.

Specialty gases fall into several categories that include high-purity, oxidizers, flammables, corrosives, and toxic gases. They are packaged in cylinders that have been carefully prepared, filled, and analyzed to perform specific tasks, such as:
• Span and calibration gases to calibrate gas chromatographs
• Carrier gases to exclude impurities and sweep a sample through the column
• EPA protocol gases to monitor atmospheric discharge from
power plants, chemical plants,
and refineries
• Process gases to promote specific reactions
The first component in most gas use systems is a regulator or an automatic switchover system.

Regulator Material Selection

Barstock Body Regulator

The sole function of any pressure regulator is to reduce and control gas pressure from a high level in the cylinder to a lower-use pressure. In the case of specialty gases, the regulator must perform this pressure reduction and ensure the gas enters the system in the same condition as it is in the cylinder, meaning the regulator cannot add anything to the gas stream (impurities) or subtract anything (absorption). This is accomplished by the careful selection of materials contacting the gas stream.

The first material to consider is the regulator body. A brass regulator is compatible with many specialty gases and is relatively economical because the metal is easy to machine. There are two ways to make a brass regulator — through forging and using barstock (Figure 1).

Though a forged brass body regulator is economical, internals can be relatively rough and have high-surface area, making cleaning more difficult and increasing the opportunity for contamination. Forged body regulators are recommended for medium-purity specialty gases up to 99.995 percent purity.

A barstock body regulator’s surfaces are machined, including all the internal surfaces, giving the manufacturer more control of internal surface finishes and wetted surface area. Barstock body regulators also will have a lower surface area, making cleaning easier and the chance for contamination lower. Barstock body regulators are suitable for all purity levels of specialty gases.

Many specialty gases are corrosive and incompatible with brass body regulators. A few examples of these gases are chlorine, hydrogen chloride, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide, for which stainless steel or other materials may be necessary. The most widely used material is 316L stainless steel, which is highly compatible with corrosive gases in their anhydrous (dry) state. However, if moisture is present, the gas readily combines with it to form the acid phase of the gas that is highly corrosive and can rapidly lead to regulator failure.

Corrosion-Resistant Regulator with
Deep-Purge Assembly

Special care for corrosive gases comes in two forms — either by using more corrosive-resistant materials, such as Hastelloy, Monel, or electroless nickel plating, or through system purging when changing cylinders. Because the atmosphere is full of moisture, when the regulator is removed from the cylinder during cylinder change, a small amount of moisture enters the regulator — enough to cause damage to the regulator and other downstream equipment if not removed with an effective purging procedure.

The most effective purge is the deep purge (Figure 2) with a snorkel tube design. The snorkel tube allows purge gas to enter the system directly at the cylinder valve and performs a positive displacement purge, physically pushing moisture and other contaminants out of the system. The typical purge gases used are nitrogen, argon, or helium because they are inert and very dry. Purging with the Deep Purge greatly improves system safety and regulator longevity.

Automatic Switchover
Another form of special care is to provide a continuous gas supply using an automatic switchover system (Figure 3), which virtually eliminates downtime caused by contamination entering the piping to an analyzer. The auto-switch system offers several benefits, from an increase in the connected gas supply to the ability to switch from a primary to a reserve supply.

Sizing the system properly eliminates downtime created when changing cylinders, avoids running out gas on long production runs, and decreases the overall gas residual returned to the supplier. Many facilities automatically change cylinders on a Friday afternoon, so the risk of downtime over the weekend is diminished.

Automatic Switchover System

With an auto-switch system, the reserve supply is already connected so the primary supply can be used until depletion. Upon depletion of the primary supply, the reserve will automatically supply the system. The system is built to avoid gas contamination during cylinder change by including check valves in the cylinder pigtails or with built-in purge capability for consistent gas purity to add an extra level of special care.

In addition, many switchover systems offer alarm capability, with optional features such as telemetry and/or computer interface to further enhance system security. Such features can enhance laboratory or process applications by reducing downtime and improving system purity.

Piping Considerations
Often overlooked is the gas piping system, which should be considered an extension of the gas cylinder. While it is convenient to run plastic, rubber, Teflon, or other flexible tubing, it can be a big mistake. Specialty gases are highly purified and analyzed to ensure the gas in the cylinder is a specified purity. Once the gas leaves the cylinder, there are two things that can happen. The gas can be degraded by the piping system or remain at the same purity level as in the cylinder. Plastic or other styles of flexible tubing will degrade the purity by allowing atmospheric contamination to enter the piping system by permeating through the tubing.

Special care in this case is to use either stainless steel or copper tubing.
If copper tubing is chosen, the connections should not be soldered or silver-brazed. The flux required for silver brazing is hydrocarbon-based and will off-gas and add contamination to the system. The recommended connections for copper tubing are instrumentation-quality compression tube fittings. For stainless steel tubing, either orbital-TIG-welding or compression-tube fittings are recommended.

By taking special care with the gas use system, specialty gases can easily be delivered to point of use without contamination to perform designated tasks.

About the Author
David Durkin is manager of product enhancement for CONCOA, a global supplier of high-quality gas pressure and flow control equipment and distribution systems for medical, industrial, laser, and specialty gas applications. Mr. Durkin earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Fairleigh Dickinson University. He has 30 years of experience in the gas industry, specializing in applications involving high-purity equipment. With CONCOA since 1991, Mr. Durkin is currently responsible for developing regulators and process equipment for the high-purity gas market. He can be reached at david.durkin@concoa.com or 800 225-0473.

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