Out of Thin Air: A History of Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., 1940-1990

By Andrew J. Butrica; Deborah G. Douglas | Go to book overview

Technical Appendix

Air Separation Technology

Oxygen and nitrogen are common chemicals. Together they make up most of the air we breathe, yet only in the last century has there been a commercial market for those gases. In 1990, the sale of oxygen, nitrogen, and other industrial gases constituted a $16 billion business. The technology that made possible that immense market was first introduced on a commercial scale by Carl von Linde in Germany and by Georges Claude in France, around 1900. A major revolution took place in the 1930s and 1940s, when a means for generating large amounts of cheap oxygen was introduced. By 1980, another technological revolution had taken place. The low-temperature, or cryogenic, technologies pioneered by Linde and Claude were being challenged by non-cryogenic technologies utilizing the adsorbent and permeability properties of certain chemical substances.

As commercialized by Linde and Claude, air separation took place in four stages: 1) compression of the air; 2) the removal of carbon dioxide, water vapor, and other impurities; 3) liquefaction of the air; and 4) separation of the air into oxygen and nitrogen. Removal of the impurities was critical, since water vapor and carbon dioxide frozen in the liquefaction process would obstruct the equipment. The various air separation processes were called cycles and were based on the application of thermodynamic principles, that is, the manipulation of conditions of pressure and temperature. Both Linde and Claude began by liquefying air, then devised distillation columns to produce oxygen-enriched air, and finally, oxygen.

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Out of Thin Air: A History of Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., 1940-1990
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures and Tables ix
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Introduction xv
  • PART I THE ROOTS OF ENTERPRISE 1
  • 1: The Entrepreneur and the Engineer 3
  • 2: Air Products at War 25
  • PART II COMING OF AGE 49
  • 3: Survival and Strategies 51
  • Notes 82
  • 4: Air Products Comes of Age 83
  • 5: The Technological Enterprise and Its Culture 109
  • PART III THE MODERN FIRM EMERGES 137
  • 6: Charting a New Course 139
  • Notes 169
  • 7: Investing in the Future 171
  • 8: Triumphs and Troubles 199
  • PART IV A FORTUNE 500 CORPORATION 231
  • 9: Maturity 233
  • Notes 261
  • 10: Planning for Growth 265
  • Notes 292
  • Technical Appendix 295
  • Note 301
  • Bibliography 303
  • Index 307
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