What’s an Acetylene Generator?

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An acetylene generator produces a constant supply of acetylene gas for welding and construction work. There are two types, one using a hopper system and the other feeding water onto carbide. Safety measures must be taken due to the explosive nature of the gas. The generator should be housed away from the work area, and the carbide supply must be pure to avoid contamination. Pressure control is also important as acetylene gas decomposes explosively at pressures above 15 PSI.

An acetylene generator is a device that produces a constant supply of acetylene gas for use in welding, repair or construction work where acetylene is constantly required. The device, which has two basic types, works by exposing calcium carbide to water which produces acetylene gas. it can be beneficial for companies that use large quantities of acetylene on a daily basis, as there are fewer potential supply disruptions and the cost of the final product is lower. The installation, use and maintenance of an acetylene generator are, however, subject to strict safety measures as acetylene is an extremely dangerous gas which explodes easily in a wide range of gas concentrations in the air.

Acetylene is a highly flammable, colorless gas with a slight garlic odor, widely used in combination with oxygen for welding, brazing and cutting steel. It is also used in several other industrial applications including face hardening of large steel parts and radiocarbon dating. Oxyacetylene welding and cutting is, however, the single largest consumer of acetylene accounting for approximately 20% of global consumption. It is typically in these applications that acetylene generators are used.

There are two basic types of acetylene generator; the first of which uses a hopper system to feed calcium carbide in granular or powdered form into the water tank. The second feeds water onto a carbide layer at the bottom of the generator. Both types of generators should be well sealed and equipped with safety valves for safety against internal pressure peaks of the generated gas.

The latter method is the less desirable of the two processes as it generates considerable heat. It also tends to produce acetylene long after the water flow has stopped. This makes it difficult to terminate the process quickly. The carbide feed process, on the other hand, sees the carbide quenched in water during the generation of acetylene resulting in lower temperatures and a controllable shutdown of gas production.

The installation and use of an acetylene generator must always be performed by qualified personnel due to the ever-present explosion hazard surrounding the production and use of the gas. The acetylene generator should be housed well away from the work area, no lights or open flames should be allowed near the generator and the building should be heated with steam. Care must be taken to ensure the highest levels of purity possible in the carbide supply as phosphate contamination is common in carbide and can cause simultaneous production of hydrogen phosphide gas. This contaminant can have an adverse effect on metals welded with oxyacetylene systems. Special attention must also be paid to controlling the pressure in an acetylene generator because the gas decomposes explosively at pressures in excess of 15 pounds per square inch (PSI).

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