John F. Hardy, site manager of Global Operations at Air Products, is shown with a container of liquid nitrogen.This liquid nitrogen is -321 degrees. Air Products produces liquid nitrogen, argon and oxygen. -- Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
CONYERS -- There's more to the air than meets the eye.
Air is made up mostly of nitrogen and oxygen, along with argon, carbon dioxide and other gases. The combination of these elements makes air suitable for life, but broken apart, these gases can be used for a number of other purposes.
This is what Air Products does.
Simply put, Air Products and Chemicals Inc. collects air, breaks it apart and sells the separate components of air in their liquid form.
"We pull in air and compress it, then we expand it, which begins the cool-down process to reach cryogenic temperatures," explained John Hardy, site manager for Air Products in Conyers. "We turn it into liquid air and then put that through a distillation process that separates the molecules."
The end result of what Air Products manufactures is liquid oxygen, liquid nitrogen and liquid argon. These liquids are sold and sent by truck to Air Products' customers.
Since liquid nitrogen is very cold (it boils at -321 F), for instance, many food processors will purchase liquid nitrogen to instantly freeze freshly made foods or newly caught seafood so the product can be shipped to restaurants.
Other users of liquid oxygen, nitrogen or argon include steel mills, glass factories, rubber producers, pharmaceutical companies, and a wide variety of medical industries. Hardy said that Air Products sells breathing oxygen to hospitals so that oxygen is available in all the rooms.
"There is hardly anything that is manufactured that somewhere in the process industrial gas is not used," Hardy sad.
Hardy explained that nitrogen and argon are inert gases, meaning they don't easily react to other chemicals, but they are very cold, which could cause frostbite.
He said that while oxygen is nonflammable, it enhances the flammability of other substances it is exposed to.
"This is why we sell oxygen to steel mills and glass factories," Hardy said. "They will inject oxygen into their furnaces to make it hotter -- much hotter -- and increase the speed it takes to make molten steel.
"This is your basic high school science class put into action," he said.
Air Products was founded in 1940 in Detroit by Leonard Parker Pool. Pool sold oxygen generators to support military efforts in World War II.
Today, Air Products is publicly traded and operates in more than 40 countries. It is a Fortune 500 company and, according to Fortune, is the seventh largest chemical company in the U.S.
Air Products' founder is also credited with developing the concept of constructing on-site facilities to produce and sell industrial gases.
Today, Air Products operates merchant plants -- like the facility on Old Covington Road in Conyers-- where the liquid air is manufactured and shipped to customers and on-site plants where Air Products constructs a facility on a customer's site to manufacture the liquid component specifically for that customer. For example, Hardy said Air Products has several on-site plants at steel mills in the Midwest.
The Air Products plant in Conyers was built in 1975 and came online in 1976. In 1996, the facility was expanded, which doubled its production.
Hardy started his career with Air Products in Conyers in 1982 as a driver for 13 years. He then transitioned into management, having moved around the country five times before coming back to manage the Conyers site.
Air Products in Conyers employs 44 people, which includes 30 drivers who distribute the liquid product throughout the Southeast.
Others work in plant operations and in technical operations. Hardy said those with military experience, particularly in the U.S. Navy, are often recruited due to their technical expertise.
Hardy said everything produced at Air Products is strictly monitored and falls under the guidelines of the Food and Drug Administration.
In addition to the Conyers facility, Air Products operates plants in Orlando, Fla., Decatur, Ala., and Reidsville, N.C.
Did You Know?
Air Products and Chemicals Inc. is the world’s largest producer of liquid hydrogen, and has supplied the hydrogen used to fuel the U.S. Space Shuttle.