Business Day

Afrox opens air separation unit

- ALISTAIR ANDERSON Industrial Correspond­ent

GAS company Afrox yesterday opened its new R200m air separation unit (ASU) at its Pretoria West site. This new plant replaces a plant built in 1986.

GAS company Afrox yesterday opened its new R200m air separation unit (ASU) at its Pretoria West site.

This new plant replaced a unit built in 1986 and is part of a R1.5bn capital investment make-over programme to expand its customer base into sub-Saharan Africa.

MD Brett Kimber, who joined Afrox in late 2011, said the company had decided it needed to upgrade its facilities dramatical­ly and become more aggressive in South African industry.

“I spent 2012 seeing how I could lead changes in the company. Now we have begun a three- year large investment programme to expand the group,” he said.

The new unit was designed and built to global standards.

The atmospheri­c gases plant will produce high-purity oxygen, nitrogen and argon to serve the merchant and medical markets in SA and neighbouri­ng countries.

As a result of market changes, in 1999 Afrox discontinu­ed the supply of gaseous oxygen and nitrogen and operated one of its two 750 tons-per-day ASUs at its Pretoria West facility in maximum turn-down mode.

Operating these large plants in turn-down mode was highly energy inefficien­t.

Taking into account the age of the plant, Afrox saw an oppor- tunity to replace an existing plant with more modern and efficient technology by installing the new ASU.

The engineerin­g division of The Linde Group, Afrox’s parent company, was responsibl­e for the design, supply and building of the new ASU.

“The ASU is remotely controlled from a global operations facility in the UK, ensuring optimal output and quality products. This also included integratin­g an existing nitrogen liquefier unit into the new ASU at the site and linked production from the ASU to existing cluster storage tanks.

“The cooling water system, the electrical supply and instrumen- tation have also been upgraded,” Mr Kimber said.

Three cold boxes, an air compressor, coolers, pump skids and PPU skids were shipped from Germany to Durban and then transporte­d to Pretoria by road on a flatbed trailer.

The R1.5bn developmen­t programme to be rolled out over three years is the biggest in the history of Afrox in SA.

Under the programme, Afrox will establish a business campus and air separation unit in Port Elizabeth to serve customers in the Eastern Cape. The other part is the ASU in Pretoria.

However, Mr Kimber warned that gas and chemical suppliers are constraine­d by gross domestic product growth in SA.

“Industry is entering a better period than after the recession, but only slowly will things improve and a boom is far off. As such, we have to invest now for the long term,” he said.

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