Technical Gases Overview Technical Gases: Raw Materials Out of Thin Air

Author / Editor: Dominik Stephan* / Dominik Stephan

Some raw materials come in a Big Bag, others in pressure cylinders. As with technical gases—From food production to medical technology, these volatile raw materials are in high demand. We took the opening of a CO2 filling installation as an opportunity to take a deep draught from the compressed air cylinder. For gas is not always gas …

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(Picture: © sakura -

A slight hissing is all — nothing else can be heard next to a white tank lorry parked in the Höchst Industry Park. Only with the help of a weighbridge display does the driver see that several tonnes of CO2 are pumped into his trailer. Another hiss — then 22 tonnes of the cryogenic liquefied gas have disappeared into the insulated tank.

Although the location is in the middle of one of Europe’s biggest industry parks, there is no one around except from the trucker. Everything works automatically, with remote management and control. Shortly afterwards, as if by an invisible hand, the barrier opens and the lorry continues its journey. Perhaps to a chemicals plant, a pharma enterprise or a drinks filling plant. CO2 is in high demand.

The noiseless procedure is a major step towards independence for the operating firms — for in this plant, CO2 is not only stored and loaded, it is also cleaned and liquefied. Otherwise the gas would not be usable at all for many applications.

Four German gas specialists are involved in the € 3.5 million project: Westfalen from Münster holds a 50 % lion’s share, while the rest is carried by Basi Schöberl, the Sauerstoffwerk Friedrich Guttroff and Rießner-Gase. “We have created something to be proud of,” explained the Westfalen board chairman Wolfgang Fritsch-Albert. “A plant which puts medium-sized firms in the position of producing CO2 themselves — which was not the case for many years.”

A Gaseous Bulk Material

The material involved could hardly be more common: CO2 is neither particularly rare nor particularly expensive. The gas is a mass product which arises almost as a waste product in countless reactions in the chemicals industry. Whether in ammonia synthesis or methanol production, during the washing of the necessary synthesis gas, CO2 of high purity is extracted. In lime burning, too, hundreds of millions of tonnes of the colourless and odourless gas are created.

Westfalen Starts CO2 Production in Frankfurt
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Accordingly, the large chemicals firms dominate the CO2-market. Gas suppliers such as Westfalen until now limited themselves to the role of a middleman for carbon dioxide, buying clean gas from the chemicals firms and distributing it to consumer sectors. This symbiosis worked well until the economic crisis. But, as the chemicals industry throttled back the production of base chemicals and plastic precursors due to lack of demand, the available quantity of CO2 dropped abruptly. The gas firms were faced with a problem: where should the additional quantities of protective gas, carbon dioxide and co. for their customers come from? The solution: make it yourself...