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How does the nitrogen generation system in a B777 work and how does it differ from that used in a B787? Any diagrams will be appreciated.

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The 777 system

As RAC points out, "nitrogen-generation system" is somewhat of a misnomer. All the system does is remove oxygen from the ambient air and blow the rest into the center fuel tank; there is no chemically "new" nitrogen created. The 777 architecture is basically the same as the schematic that mike provides; in fact, all bleed-air aircraft use pretty much the same system. For example, here is an Airbus schematic:

Airbus NGS

Parker has a breakdown of the major components. Summarizing it and filling in some gaps, we have:

  • Ozone (O3) converter: Basically a catalytic converter that converts triatomic oxygen (ozone) to biatomic ("regular") oxygen to protect other elements in the system from oxidation.
  • Heat exchanger: Cools the bleed air (which is really hot when it comes off the engine), again to protect other elements of the system and increase their effectiveness.
  • Air separation module: Physically removes almost everything but the dinitrogen (N2) in the air. This separation is accomplished by running the air through semipermeable fibrous tubes; because almost all the non-N2 molecules present are smaller than the N2 molecules, those smaller molecules pass through the membranes and are exhausted overboard, leaving only the nitrogen to exit into the fuel tank.
  • Other: There are various filters to protect components from particulate matter, valves to control the timing and rate of flows, controllers to control the valves, and sensors to inform the controllers.

The 787 system

The 787 is a no-bleed airplane, which means that instead there is an electric-driven compressor to supply the NGS rather than bleed air. This setup requires a slightly different heat-exchanging architecture, but the overall function and operation of the primary system components are similar.

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The NGS uses proprietary tech to separate nitrogen enriched air from bleed air. Diagram attached.

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ ...and why are Boeing allowed to keep technology that would greatly increase aviation safety secret? $\endgroup$ – Sean Sep 21 at 21:50
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On the 787 it's NOT a nitrogen generation system, it's an oxygen depletion system. If the air starts at 77% N2 and 21% O2, and you take half the oxygen out, you end up with 87% N2 and 11% O2. The whole idea is to reduce the balance of fuel fumes v oxygen above the fuel, so that it won't burn.

On the 787, air from the Cargo Heat system is passed through a catalytic convertor (like your car), which takes out some of the oxygen. The reduced-oxygen/enriched-nitrogen is then fed to the fuel tanks like a vent system.

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