Air Products has unveiled the towering “heart” of its new Eastern Cape air separation unit marking a milestone in progress towards commissioning of the R300-million plant by the end of the year.

At 32 metres tall and weighing in at 56 tonnes, the cold box is a new landmark in the Coega Industrial Development Zone (IDZ). It is the key component in the company’s cryogenic air separation process which will provide Eastern Cape industry with the secure supply of industrial gases.

The plant will produce 110 tonnes per day of liquid nitrogen and oxygen, and is built with the capacity to scale up production in line with market demand, Air Products managing director Mike Hellyar said.

“The new air separation unit will enhance the supporting infrastructure for industrial development in the Eastern Cape and support business sustainability in the region through stimulating down-stream job creation, strengthening supply chain linkages and contributing towards the critical mass needed to position the Eastern Cape as an investment destination of choice,” he said.

Hellyar said the availability of a stable supply of industrial gas completed the quadrant of utilities as the fourth utility (water, electricity, fuel and gas) essential to doing business, and “opens the doors for future industrial growth”.

He said the new air separation unit represented Air Products’ confidence in the region’s economic growth prospects, signalled particularly by the growing pipeline of investment into the Coega IDZ.

 “The availability of this secure supply also enables us to bring the benefits of industrial gas to non-traditional users, stimulating demand and opening up new markets, with positive knock-on impacts on industrial activity and economic growth in the region,” he said.

Hellyar said this was in line with Air Products’ strategy to identify and prioritise growing market sectors, and then develop long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with customers within these markets.

Construction to date had been injury and incident-free, he said, and the company was firmly on schedule to commission the plant and have gas flowing to customers in the final quarter of 2014.

Construction and installation of the plant has created about 120 jobs as well as business opportunities for local small and medium enterprises (SMEs), consultants and contractors.