The BCGA Annual Conference 2017 has this evening drawn to a close in Manchester, UK, focusing on the technologies, professionalism and spirit of collaboration that can enable the industry’s next wave of growth to be realised.

The Marriott Hotel and Country Club at Worsley Park was the venue for another strong gathering of the BCGA (British Compressed Gases Association), with around 150 delegates understood to be in attendance at this year’s conference.

The event is the association’s opportunity to once again throw the spotlight on safety and progress within the UK gases industry, as well as providing a platform for continued success.

That was a sentiment expressed by BCGA Chief Executive Doug Thornton who, in previewing the conference, told gasworld, “The calibre and expertise of speakers signed up for the 2017 conference reflects the scope and scale of our industry and its proactive, innovative and collaborative approach.”

“The conference goes from strength to strength each year and the programme in place for 2017 provides the platform for continued success.”

President Tony Edwards (Luxfer Gas Cylinders) echoed this assessment in his opening address, commenting, “I’d like to join Doug in welcoming you all, it’s another good turnout today and another interesting year of topics ahead.”

Edwards proceeded to reflect on another successful year for the BCGA, improving safety and technical standards across industry – but also helping to ‘grow and develop’ the industry, with an influential role in the movement for alternative fuel vehicles just one example.

Overview

From there, the day’s progressive agenda began to unfold, beginning with a Technical Committee Report from BCGA Technical Secretary Jake Lake.

Lake gave an overview of the key changes from the various Technical and Sub-Technical Committees and their important achievements made over the last 12 months.

This included an updated to its Code of Practice 35 (COP35) – Filling ratios and developed pressures for liquefied compressed gases – offering updated information about the filling ratios that are applicable when filling gas cylinders with liquefiable gases for transport within the UK, and an update to its leaflet ‘L7, The Dangers of Misusing Gases’ guide. The leaflet, which was revised in September 2016, points out the hazards involved when gases are misused in public sectors such as the food, drink and entertainment industries, and the BCGA highlights major areas of concern such as helium misuse when inhaled from balloons, the mishandling of dry ice, and exploitation of cryo-cookery in the report.

Strong future

From achievements over the past year to the opportunities to be explored in the many years ahead, and Chris Street – Director of Global Strategy for Air Liquide-Calgaz – was the first non-BCGA speaker to take to the stage to discuss Specialty Gases in Europe.

Discussing the opportunities and challenges in this business for the next decade, Street began by giving an understanding of what is meant by specialty gases today, including their applications and the make-up of the current European market.

Street looked back on the history and development within the specialty gases sector to date, and promptly gave an insight into some of the new technologies, innovations and challenges faced by the industry as it moves forward into the next decade. Though carefully acknowledged given the stage he was on, Street cited one of those challenges as the need to not over-regulate this business, especially where the smaller, independent players are concerned.

This was followed by a BCGA TSC10 Report into compressed gas security operations from Steve Corner and a mid-morning refreshments break, before David Hopper (Air Liquide) resumed the presentations with a BCGA TSC5 Report into Gas Products and the familiar topic of REACH, with a message that the clock is ticking on the final stage of registration for this important regulation.

It was then over to Tony Pickett, Associate Director of Product Management for Scott Safety, to deliver All I Need is the Air that I Breathe – a review of past, present and future developments in the use of compressed gas mixtures in respiratory protection equipment.

Taking the attention from compressed gases to the cryogenic variety, John Vandore – Chairman of the Cryogenic Cluster for British Cryogenics Council (BCC) – discussed Cryogenics: A Classic Enabling Technology and underlined the enabling role of cryogenics behind the scenes in food, healthcare, energy, science and space - without which all our lives would be ‘miserable’.

Vandore cited a recent economic impact study that estimated as much as 17% of the UK economy was broadly associated with cryogenics, reinforcing the ‘Invisible Industry’ campaign of the BCGA in recent years. The UK has a particularly strong presence in cryogenics, he explained, with its centre of gravity around Oxford and a brilliant heritage associated with the development of superconducting magnets, from which we have MRI scanners and many other technologies in science and space.

As well as alluding to previous pedigree, Vandore described the strong future that the sector has, with new applications in renewable energy, cold chains, and in quantum technology.

Energy

The evolving energy landscape was next up on the agenda, beginning in earnest with the potentially controversial topic of shale gas, courtesy of Cuadrilla.

Explaining The Role Shale Gas has to Play in the UK, Eric Vaughn informed the audience about the technology, regulatory and environmental aspects of shale gas exploration in the UK – from site build to so-called ‘fracking’ – and the benefits the development of this industry may bring to the UK, including unsubsidised investment, job creation, tax revenue, and energy security.

The energy talk continued with The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders’ (SMMT) overview of the market development of Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs), sandwiched between presentations from The Fire Industry Association (FIA) CEO Ian Moore and Dr. Julian Delic, Policy Team Leader of the Chemicals Regulation Division for HSE (Health and Safety Executive).

David Wong, Technology & Innovation Manager for SMMT, explained how the organisation plays a role in supporting the market development of FCEVs as the UK’s automotive industry trade body, with 700 members ranging from all mainstream vehicle manufacturers through to suppliers of all sizes and after-market businesses. Further still, delegates heard how the SMMT works with the BCGA and its members, as well as Government and other stakeholders alike, in addressing near term challenges and advancing the ‘nascent’ market for FCEVs in the UK.

Inspiration

Concluding the day’s insights was a rousing motivational talk from record-breaking adventurer Brian Jones, the pioneering English balloonist who made headlines in 1999 when he completed the first non-stop, around-the-world voyage in the Breitling Orbiter 3 balloon powered purely by hot air and helium.

Jones, who completed the 20-day mission alongside Swiss Bertrand Piccard, relived his journey for the delegates – highlighting the technologies and human forces that made it possible. From awe-inspiring views by day to nights spent fearing the worst, stimulated delegates learned how professionalism and friendship, combined with the backing of a skilled and remarkable team, carried Jones and Piccard through to their ultimate moment of success in the Egyptian desert.

And on that moving note, it was down to Edwards to provide the President’s closing remarks and officially bring the curtain down on the day’s events.

The BCGA has also confirmed that next year’s event will be held on 19th April (2018) at Oulton Hall in Leeds, and its 2019 conference will return to Manchester on 11th April (2019).

Speaker and delegates alike will reconvene this evening for the BCGA’s reception and Annual Dinner, and reflect on an agenda that certainly provided a platform continued business success – from trends and technologies driving growth to the fundamental human factors required to succeed.