CO2 versus Compressed Air

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24oz Co2 Tank

24oz CO2 tankEmpire Basic 3000psi Compressed Air Tank

48ci/3000psi Compressed Air Tank

We get a lot of questions and one of the most common is “What is the difference between CO2 and Nitrogen?” or “What is the difference between Co2 and Compressed Air?”

To start, lets look at the terms and how they relate to paintball.

Nitrogen – You will often hear players that have been around paintball for awhile refer to compressed air bottles as “nitrogen” bottles. The reason for this is simple, back in the early days of paintball it was difficult to find bulk compressed air bottles or compressors that could reach the 3000psi or 4500psi mark used in paintball. So paintball players would purchase larger bulk nitrogen bottles from welding supply stores to fill their paintball tanks. Welders use nitrogen to pressurize tubes or other sealed vessels to expel other gasses that might contaminate their welds. This is one of the reasons nitrogen is such a good source of propellent for paintball, it is very stable and clean. Nitrogen does not react to temperature changes the way some gases do, and remains very stable even in high temperatures.

Compressed Air – With the growth in compressor technology and the popularity of paintball, high pressure compressors and bulk compressed air bottles are very easy to find today. So one might ask “Isn’t nitrogen better?”, well the answer is a fairly simple “nope”. The air we breath, and the air we compress into our paintball tanks today is composed of 70% nitrogen and is nearly as stabile as pure nitrogen, at least when used in the application of propelling a paintball.

CO2 –  Is a carbon based gas, and when compressed it becomes a liquid, which is how it is used in paintball. We use bulk tanks to put liquid Co2 into our bottles, this is why CO2 tanks are rated by ounces rather than cubic inches (ci) when measuring capacity.

When CO2 is expanded back into a gas (like we use in paintball) it has a cooling effect and will chill the bottle, gun and anything else that comes into contact with the gas. When expanded rapidly Co2 will convert into its solid form, known as dry ice, an issue we will address later.

Furthermore, CO2 is a highly temperature sensitive gas, in paintball applications Co2 will range in pressure from 700psi to 1100psi based upon temperature and other atmospherical conditions.

So which is better?

Each has its advantages, but the short answer is – Compressed Air

As with all ballistic situations, consistency is key, and since compressed air will always be a more consistent source of propellent we would always prefer to use compressed air.

Why is Co2 still around then?

CO2 tanks are very inexpensive, both to purchase and to fill. There are lots of local stores including Dicks Sporting Goods, Dunams, Walmart and local paintball pro-shops that will all fill CO2 making it easy to get refills when you are playing on private property.

CO2 can be used correctly and work great. By making sure your tank has an anti-sphypon tube installed or at the very least making sure not to point the gun directly down,  you can safely use CO2 in most situations. In low rate of fire situations, CO2 can expand at a rate that wont cause excessive chilling of the paintball marker, and wont freeze up.

What are the problems with CO2 then? Will Co2 hurt my paintball gun?

All paintball guns should be checked with a chronograph to assure the paintballs are being shot at a safe velocity. During the course of a day of playing your velocity should be checked a few times. With CO2, the velocity of your paintball gun can spike to unsafe levels if the CO2 is allowed to get too hot, and if you do not re-check and adjust your velocity regularly this can lead to paintballs being shot at unsafe speeds.

CO2 won’t generally “hurt” your paintball gun, but there are some dangers to be aware of. As we mentioned before, rapidly expanded CO2 will turn into dry ice, and as the dry ice returns to room temperature it will return to gas form & if that dry ice is in an inclosed place it can cause serious damage. This could happen if the dry ice chunk is in the solenoid of your electronic paintball gun, or the valve of  your mechanical, it can damage seals and ruin solenoids.

OK, So what do I buy?

Compressed air tanks have become very affordable, such as the Empire Basic. These allow most players to be able to afford a great compressed air tank for a low price.

If you are in an area where compressed air is not readily available, Co2 tanks can still be used safely with simple precautions. You may want to consider getting a 20 or 24oz Co2 tank in order to make sure you can play all day with one simple fill.

Author: ECBallers

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