Nitrogen becomes a liquid at -321°F and can turn a rubber racquetball into a glass-like form that will shatter when it hits a hard surface. When a balloon is placed over a plastic bottle containing liquid nitrogen, the balloon inflates as the liquid nitrogen turns back into a gaseous state.
Ferus Inc., a Canadian company which is building a liquid nitrogen plant in Letcher County, used these simple demonstrations to show more than 200 people some of the powers of liquid nitrogen during an open house at the Gateway Industrial Park near Jenkins on April 28. The product manufactured by Ferus will be used in the drilling of natural gas wells.
“We just wanted to keep them informed and let them know what liquid nitrogen is,” said Fred Adams, the plant’s base manager.
Some classes from the Jenkins and Letcher County school systems attended the open house to watch the demonstrations. Adams, of Isom, said Ferus is now being asked to visit area schools to show even more students some of the things liquid nitrogen can do.
Liquid nitrogen is even part of what we breathe, Adams said.
“We just use a process to separate everything out of the air to get what we need,” he explained. “We pull it out of the air and turn it into a liquid. The machines that do it are complicated, but the process is not.”
Adams said the liquid nitrogen plant is 90 percent complete and should be producing sometime this summer. He said the open house was to let the public see the progress midway between the announcement of Ferus coming to Jenkins last June and the ribbon-cutting ceremony this summer.
“We wanted to let the community see we are here,” said Adams. “Things are happening. We are actually doing what we said we would do.”
Letcher County Economic Development Director Joe DePriest said Ferus wanted a casual event to meet people in the community.
“They wanted to share with the people the progress they have made,” said DePriest. “Everybody got to see their facility and how they have remodeled.”
Letcher County Judge/ Executive Jim Ward said the open house was a success.
“It let them show what they are doing up there,” said Ward. “They have made a lot of progress.”
Ferus has already hired 32 people, with at least 15 living in Letcher County. The rest live in Pike and Floyd counties and Wise County, Va. Employees are spending two weeks of training at Ferus’s liquid nitrogen plant in Canada.
The $32 million facility will be capable of producing up 5 million standard cubic feet of liquid nitrogen per day, enough to fill one of six large storage tanks located at the new plant.
“They have probably already spent $15 million,” said DePriest.
DePriest said Ferus is committed to Letcher County and has shown that by hiring the Letcher County Shrine Club to cater the open house as well as raising $1,000 for the Letcher County Relay for Life during a recent golf outing.
“That is their big goal,” said DePriest. “They really emphasize that and try to do it.”