Air Products Turns Purple


Above: Original water pipe pumping potable water through the water cooling towers. This pipe will remain as a backup to be used in the case that recycled water is not accessible. Below: Air Products’ Erick Hawkins next to a new water pipe, distinguished by the purple, that will pump recycled water through the water cooling towers starting on May 21, 2010.


Air Products is a provider of industrial gases. This case study describes how they converted to the use of recycled water at their facility in Santa Clara, CA.

Two pipelines connect to the sides of a large Air Products water cooler; on the left, a normal grey pipe that will soon shut off, and on the right, a light purple pipe already filled with six gallons of water and ready to be turned on. Air Products is the newest partner to the South Bay Water Recycling (SBWR), and on May 21st, SBWR’s system will begin to pump millions of gallons of recycled water per year into its Santa Clara Air Separation Unit. This program not only frees up 62 million gallons of drinking water for residents per year and takes the strain off of the Bay Delta ecosystem; it exemplifies how this private company plans to use sustainable principles profitably while creating partnerships within the community.

Air Products became interested in linking with the City of Santa Clara to recycle water at one of the quarterly meetings that the city hosts to share innovations and opportunities for industries in the area. At the meeting, a guest speaker presented on the recycled water program, its environmental and financial benefits, and the current map of its impact. Air Products’ Erick Hawkins and Luke Charpentier noticed the Air Separation Unit’s proximity to the well-established SBWR pipeline. Hawkins comments, “we were so close to the pipeline that it just made sense.” After taking interest and applying for the Recycled Water Service, Air Products went through the formalized process of confirming water suitability, cost-benefit analysis, environmental analysis, and permitting.

Water Suitability

The Santa Clara Air Separation Unit separates air into pure liquid and gaseous argon, oxygen, and nitrogen distributed through a gas pipeline and by a ground fleet. The site uses water to cool the components involved in the process. After the water acquires heat from the equipment, it travels back to the water tower where it is cooled by evaporation. The cool water is them pumped back into the system to remove heat. Water is lost through evaporation, requiring water to be added to maintain the level in the tower. Second only to energy use, water is one of the most critical parts of this process, pumping up to 65 million gallons of water per year.

Air Products had to ensure that the recycled water was suitable for this use. The metals used in the water separation equipment are susceptible to corrosion, and the water that runs through it must be chemically compatible to ensure that it will not foul the equipment. SBWR provided reports on its recycled water quality in comparison to potable water. SBWR also supplied water samples that Air Products sent to independent analysts to confirm the water makeup. Air Products, through its partnership with G.E. Water Technology, found that the chemical makeup of the recycled water, while higher in Ammonia than the potable water, only required small changes to maintain the quality and neutralize the pH of the water. While this change attached an extra cost to water maintenance, Hawkins concludes that overall, the decision would both be “much cheaper and better for the environment.”

Cost-Benefit Analysis

The financial benefits were clear. Recycled water is half of the cost of potable, accumulating nearly $100,000 per year in water savings for Air Products. The construction cost for the Air Products portion of the project were such that they met Air products required pay-back period. The City of Santa Clara played a major role in getting the new source of water to Air Products. The city conducted a project in parallel with the Air Products work, in which a new pipeline was extended 1300 feet to Air Products fence line. The city applied for stimulus funding through the U.S. Department of the Interior. The recycled water system was one of 60 projects on the west coast funded by the Bureau of Reclamation’s Title 16 Program. In addition to conducting its portion of the project, the city was extremely helpful in working with Air products in the design and approval stages of the project. “I can’t stress enough to how much the city helped us,” Hawkins comments.


Air Products’ overall goals in the project were to pursue green initiatives and to network within a sustainable community of businesses. Its partnership with SBWR has achieved both of these goals by strengthening the green business and practice in the community. The recycled water project is one of many different environmental steps that Air Products has made internationally in its commitment to green business. In addition to connecting to the growing corporate culture of sustainable action, the formalized process that the Santa Clara Air Separation Unit has created serves as a model for other communities and projects with similar intentions. Branches in other areas, including Air Products’ Santa Fe Springs branch, have been looking into establishing their own recycled water systems. In addition, this project provides a model for success for local companies. The extension of the recycled water pipeline down Norman Street also provides a highly cost-effective opportunity for any neighboring companies to switch to recycled water.

Charpentier comments that partnering with SBWR creates a “new chapter as far as networking with a community.” Air Products’ participation within Sustainable Silicon Valley has reflected a desire for collaboration with South Bay industry towards a sustainable, environmentally conscious corporate movement.

By Elaina Marshalek

May 10, 2010

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