Janesville25.4°

Air separation plant begins production

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JAMES P. LEUTE
October 2, 2008
— That giant sucking sound you’re not hearing in Beloit Township is a new, $45 million air separation plant.

It pulls in air and exhales liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen for hospitals, food processors and metals and chemicals manufacturers around the upper Midwest.


Linde North America cut the ribbon Wednesday on its new plant on South Walters Road, just west of Highway 51 between Beloit and Janesville.


Each day, the around-the-clock plant sucks in about 1,000 tons of air and produces 500 tons of liquid nitrogen and 200 tons of liquid oxygen. Two massive tanks store more than 1 million gallons of liquid nitrogen and oxygen, which equals about five days of production.


Air is basically a mixture of gases, primarily nitrogen, oxygen and argon, with small amounts of carbon dioxide and vapor impurities. Linde separates the air through extreme cooling and liquefaction.


Throughout the process, the products are graded for purity, with higher grades serving the medical sectors and lesser grades going elsewhere. Product that doesn’t meet Linde’s rigid specifications is released to the atmosphere.


More than 35 truckloads of the liquefied gases leave the company’s gates each day.


The new Rock River plant is Linde’s largest in Wisconsin. It employs about 30 people, but that number is expected to grow to 42, plant manager Steve Harold said.


Linde has a nationwide network of air separation plants from which it serves customers, ranging from small family businesses to multi-billion dollar corporations.


It primarily serves the medical, energy, food, metal, fabrication and electronics sectors, making it a diverse company that can easily weather downturns in any one sector.


Pat Murphy, president of Linde North America, said the company needed the new plant to be closer to its growing customer base in the upper Midwest. The result is better customer service and more efficient distribution.


Murphy said Linde’s Midwest demand has grown in the food processing, combustion and petrochemical sectors. The Beloit Township plant allows Linde to free up production at its existing plants in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.


Working with state, county and local economic development officials, Linde was able to pinpoint its site a stone’s throw from Calpine’s Riverside Energy Center, which sells power to Alliant Energy.


Linde officials said their plant, which essentially is remote-controlled from a site in Pennsylvania, uses about 5 percent of the energy center’s output. While the plant’s raw material—air—is free, the majority of its daily costs are tied to the electricity needed to separate and liquefy oxygen and nitrogen.


John MacRitchie, Linde’s Midwest market vice president, said the company worked closely with community representatives to site the plant.


“This is a terrific expansion for Linde,” he said. “We believe it represents the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between our company and the people of Beloit and of Rock County.”


Zach Brandon of the Wisconsin Department of Commerce said Linde is a high-tech company that’s critical to the state’s economy.


Linde should also serve as a role model, he said.


“Linde is basically using technology from the 1870s, but it’s found a way to stay relevant in today’s economy,” he said. “Our start-ups around the state that have a new technology can look at Linde and say that in 130 years, this is what they might be.”


The New Jersey-based Linde North America is part of the German-based Linde Group, which has more than 50,000 employees in 100 countries. Last year, it posted sales of $18.7 billion.



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