Many lab devices—including a gas chromatograph, ion-mobility spectrometer, and so on—require an ongoing supply of gas. A laboratory gas generator creates a specific kind of gas, such as hydrogen or nitrogen, and eliminates the need for compressed gas tanks, which must be replaced when empty. A gas generator can be a safer alternative, and can be used in many ways—beyond supporting analytical instruments.
Instead of storing a dangerous gas in a tank, a generator makes the gas as needed. Consider hydrogen. It’s highly combustible, which creates the potential for a fire or explosion. Rather than putting a high volume of hydrogen under pressure in a tank in a lab, a hydrogen gas generator holds very little gas.
Still, a gas generator needs safety features, because any gas under pressure poses a potential danger.
A manufacturer can add various safety features to a gas generator. Some generators, for example, include sensors that monitor and control the pressure of the gas. Then, if a leak occurs, the generator shuts down automatically, which limits the amount of gas that is released.
For added safety, a gas generator might use ventilation technology that prevents gas from building up, even during a leak. Such technology can also be designed to sound an alarm and shut down a generator if needed.
Beyond an explosion or fire, the kind of gas in a tank might create other safety hazards. For instance, a nitrogen leak can deplete the oxygen in a lab. A nitrogen gas generator, though, can be designed to produce only as much gas as an instrument requires, which reduces the risk to lab personnel.
Keeping a lab clean
In addition to being used with analytical equipment, a gas generator may be used for other applications. For example, in a lab that deals with biohazardous substances, gas—such as chlorine dioxide or ethylene oxide—or vapor—such as vaporized hydrogen peroxide—can be used for disinfection and sterilization. “Hand decontamination of laboratory equipment is very labor intensive, can result in equipment damage, and is prone to error” says Chris Manuel, associate director of the Office of Laboratory Animal Resources at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “Hands-free disinfection/sterilization of equipment by gas or vapor gets where the human hand cannot spray disinfectant or reach.”
According to Manuel, the main drawback to creating the necessary gas with a generator is the upfront cost of the generator, as well as service contracts. He adds that “the access restrictions and safety requirements of biohazardous work often requires dedicated infrastructure.” By creating a place where a gas generator gets used by multiple scientists, though, “the upfront cost and maintenance become more manageable,” Manuel says.
The particular application often determines the best type of gas supply for the lab. However, regardless of the application, scientists should consider safety features when purchasing a generator to keep lab processes as safe as possible.