Air Products is all around us

Kelly Dawson
April 3, 2018
12 min read
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There are more than 250 companies in our combined portfolios, and they are all making amazing advancements. From names you know, like Tesla, to those little gems you haven’t heard of yet, like Xylem, we want you to know all about what your holdings are up to. These ‘deep dives’ will help you understand what you’re invested into and how your dollars are making the world a better place.

Air Products and Chemicals is part of our Renewable Energy portfolio.

  • For more than 70 years, Air Products has spearheaded the industrial gas industry, and has grown into a lasting leader
  • By 1978, about 15 years after Air Products was listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Fortune 500 announced that the business was worth $1 billion
  • In the next two years, it wants to contribute more than 50 percent of its revenues toward energy-efficient production

All right, everyone. Put on your thinking caps, because we’re about to test your skills with riddles. Ready? Here’s our mind-bending question: What is something that makes an appearance in almost every major industry, but is also something you cannot see?

If we stumped you on that, don’t worry — we wouldn’t have guessed it, either. But if you happened to have answered “atmospheric gas,” then you were right. As it turns out, atmospheric gases like nitrogen and oxygen are sought after products throughout the world’s major businesses, from fields as obvious as energy production to more obscure work in food processing.

And if you’re now thinking, “That’s great, I have a headache and I still don’t know exactly how atmospheric gas impacts me,” then let us count the ways. A range of atmospheric gases are partially responsible for creating glass, keeping refrigerators cool, fighting fires, and forming rubber. Without these natural forces, you couldn’t even put canned whipped cream on a slice of pie.

Before we lose you to another thinking spell, consider the type of company that may have these gases under its control. For starters, it would have to be nimble, since these gases have to captured, contained, and delivered to various job sites without a hitch. Secondly, it’d have to have a big team of employees, since these products are needed all over the world. And lastly, it better know what it’s doing with these gases, since most of us didn’t even realize we use them on a daily basis.

Air Products, aptly enough, has all of this covered. For more than 70 years, this Pennsylvania-based company has spearheaded the industrial gas industry, and has grown into a lasting leader in its sphere. Its production and sales objectives impact almost every continent on the planet, and more than 15,000 employees have helped it reach a current market capitalization of about $35 billion. Yeah, with a “B.”

So how did Air Products get to be so successful? Let us answer that question without boggling your brain.

Air force (number) one

Far from the small-town streets of Allentown, where the company is currently based, Air Products began among the urban sprawl of Detroit. The man behind the helm was Leonard Parker Pool, and in 1940 he came up with a pretty solid idea. He thought that he could create a business around producing and selling industrial gases directly to customers. Simple enough, he thought, because obviously such gases can be readily found and clearly people would see the need for them. At least, that was the premise.

But Pool was perhaps slightly ahead of his time — as many innovators are — because his big idea didn’t see much spark. By the time America was enthralled in World War II five years later, Pool had the foresight to shift his work from the civilian to the soldier, and he worked with the government to streamline mobile generators that would produce oxygen for high-altitude military planes. That was the big break Pool needed, and in the midst of it all he moved his company to Chattanooga and produced about 250 oxygen generators for U.S. troops and allies abroad. Business had begun.

Once Air Products saw initial success, the ensuing decades could only try to build on that momentum. After the war, Pool’s company shifted back to civilian life, and moved its factory lines to its current location to focus on oxygen production there. By the following decade, Air Products had grown to create 75-ton-per-day generators (an otherwise large amount) and oxygen manufacturing wasn’t such a novelty anymore. So, Pool opted to widen his company’s expertise by including nitrogen into the mix. And by the end of the 1950s, the production lines ballooned once more to make room for liquid hydrogen. It was a big deal, since liquid hydrogen is rocket propellant, and Air Products partnered with NASA to get men to the moon.

Once your company is responsible for that type of success, the next option is clear: acquisitions. The 1960s and 1970s were a flurry of deals and an expanding catalog of gas products for the business, which included entry into plastics, agricultural chemicals (like nitric acid), and quick-freezing technologies for foods. By 1978, about 15 years after Air Products was listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Fortune 500 announced that the business was worth $1 billion.

The three decades leading to and following the millennium are more of the same, if you count an increasing global presence and an amass of natural and technological materials as such. Perhaps its most noble contributions in these years can be found in its systems to control air pollution, its growth into electronics, and its premiere natural gas liquefaction processes — which were all respectively completed in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. Air Products is currently following in the footsteps of its founder by using the coming decades for one important goal: innovation.

The air that I breathe

It may seem like a company that’s been around for nearly a century wouldn’t have the same supplies as it had and its start. But that’s not the case with Air Products. Gases like argon, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen are long-familiar products — and as Pool envisioned — the need for nitrogen and oxygen will never go away.

Air Products has also been working with items like semiconductor materials and epoxy additives for years, growing with those industries, and uses its familiarity with hydrogen to support fueling stations. Oh, and it still supplies liquid hydrogen to NASA, too.

The thousands of different items under the company’s umbrella are all part of an interconnected web to get it to dozens of different industries. The pipeline process requires innovation all its own, since safely transporting these tanks requires precision in any form: liquid or gas, individual or bulk, on-site or delivery (sometimes an adjacent plant is created at or near the customer’s base for a clean turnover). That’s why one of the biggest goals of this business is human and environmental safety. In 2017, Air Products reported that it was the safest and most productive company in its industry worldwide, even as it works to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and hazardous waste materials. In the next two years, it wants to contribute more than 50 percent of its revenues toward energy-efficient production.

Do you still need a thinking cap to see all that industrial gases do and have done for the world? We hope not. Air Products has had a lasting impact on showcasing and harnessing the potential of these unseen tools, which have pushed society to a present where even a visit to the moon can be seen as a flashpoint of the past.

As its products continue to make lives easier, with and without detailed technology, Air Products is building on a dream made by one inventive person long ago: That the things we cannot see may just be a vision toward the future.

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