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R300m investment in new ASU adds value to Eastern Cape gas market

Afrox’ new air separation unit (ASU) in Port Elizabeth. Afrox’ new air separation unit (ASU) in Port Elizabeth.

A substantial R300m investment in a new state-of-the-art air separation unit (ASU) in Port Elizabeth by Sub-Saharan African gas market leader Afrox is set to ensure a more reliable supply of atmospheric gases to the Eastern Cape market, while stimulating growth for existing customers and suppliers in the region.

The project was approved by Afrox and its parent company Linde in 2012. An official sod turning ceremony was held on 11 February 2014, and the project is now more than 75 percent complete, states Afrox managing director Brett Kimber. “The ASU will improve security in the supply of oxygen, nitrogen and argon – all critical process components. It will stimulate regional growth, by reducing local distribution and delivery turnaround times.”

According to Kimber, the majority of the plant’s civil work is nearing completion, and the ASU is expected to be fully operational during the first quarter of 2015, as planned. “The next major milestone is the arrival of the cold box and storage vessels in August 2014, which are expected to be installed within one month.”

The cold box is recognised as the heart of an ASU, and is the central point where proprietary technology is utilised to cryogenically separate ambient air into nitrogen, oxygen and argon. The Afrox ASU cold box was designed and manufactured in Germany by the Linde Group. It weighs over 100 tons, and is 40 m in height, 5 m in width and 4 m in breadth. Due to the sheer size of the cold box, Kimber admits that a number of logistical challenges have been encountered in Germany and South Africa. “The major challenges include shipping routes and schedules, abnormal road transport to and from port in both countries, as well as rigging and availability of cranes,” he continues.

Kimber highlights the fact that the Afrox and Linde project development and execution teams successfully overcame these obstacles. “Most of the risks and challenges were identified in the project development phase and mitigation plans to effectively address them was put in place, thereby ensuring that the majority of anticipated challenges were mitigated before becoming a major issue. This success highlights the skill and experience of the Afrox and Linde teams.”

Looking to the future, Kimber believes that the investment in the ASU is set to become the catalyst for industrial growth in the Eastern Cape. “Although the ASU will not have a direct impact on the local community, its existence will support the development of opportunities and industrial growth, which will have a profound impact on the local economy. Most importantly, Afrox customers will continue to experience our improved total solutions and extended product offering,” he concludes.

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