Air Products to open Eastern Cape air separation unit

Air Products is making an impact in the Eastern Cape and creating employment and business opportunities alongside economic advantages for local industry with its R300 million investment in the province’s first air separation unit (ASU).

Construction and installation of the plant in the Coega Industrial Development Zone (IDZ) will have created approximately 120 jobs by the time it is commissioned in the fourth quarter of 2014, said Air Products onsites project manager Robert du Pisanie.

The new plant will supply industrial gases, in particular oxygen and nitrogen, to Air Products’ established Eastern Cape customer base. It will also open up opportunities for entry into new markets with a series of new prospective clients showing increased interest in the company’s expanded – and more affordable – offering locally.

The reasons foundries use oxygen enrichment are not complicated. Blast air normally contains 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen, with the balance being other inert gases. Coke reacts with the oxygen in the blast air, creating heat that melts the charge material. However, the nitrogen representing more than 75% of the volume contributes nothing to the combustion reaction. In fact, nitrogen in the blast air reduces the overall efficiency in the cupola since it takes heat away from the melting process and is exhausted through the flue. By implementing oxygen enriched air, as the oxygen percentage increases, the percentage of nitrogen decreases, the flame temperature and available heat increase, and the heat transfer rate increases.


The first of its kind in the province, the ASU will bring security of supply to industry that previously relied on gas being trucked cross-country by road. It will produce 110 tons of liquid nitrogen and oxygen per day and has been built with the capacity to scale-up production to meet market demand.

The project has also created opportunities for local small and medium enterprises (SMEs), consultants and contractors. Du Pisanie said the civil works were “100% implemented by Eastern Cape contractors”, with the lion’s share of the engineering and design work also done by local consultants.

He added the company was committed to pushing as much as possible of the Air Products investment into the Eastern Cape.

“An air separation unit is a highly specialised, technical operation and, out of necessity, most of the components have to be imported. However, in terms of construction materials, we have sourced a significant proportion from Eastern Cape suppliers,” he said.

In addition to employment created during construction and the electrical and mechanical installation phases, the plant itself will employ between 10 and 15 people once operational.

“The significant impact however is in the local and regional value chains where security of supply and the support of our world-class technologies enabling customers to improve processes and competitiveness, will unlock business opportunities and support employment,” Air Products managing director Mike Hellyar said.

He said Air Products had made a strategic decision to locate an air separation unit in the Coega IDZ based on promising economic and industrial growth in the Eastern Cape, particularly the pipeline for mega-projects at Coega, and growing demand for industrial gases in diverse sectors from automotive to agro-processing, food and beverage, renewable energy and pharmaceuticals.

The project is well on track for completion in the fourth quarter of this year, with gas set to flow to customers before the end of 2014.

For further details contact Air Products head office on TEL: 011 570 500 or visit