The 18th century Oulton Hall mansion in Leeds, UK was the venue for an illustrious gathering of the British Compressed Gases Association (BCGA) today, as the organisation held its 2016 Annual Conference.

In the unforeseen absence of Chief Executive Doug Thornton due to illness, the association proved that the show must go on as more than 120 delegates assembled to deliberate the hot topics within the industry and associated sectors.

As the region’s go-to body for compressed gas safety and progression, the BCGA presided over a thought-provoking and engaging agenda for the 2016 conference, with topics including clean energy vehicles, the management of incidents involving hazardous materials, developments in arc welding processes and the role of shielding gases, the ‘shifting sands’ of energy and carbon policy and taxation, and an insight into the current global gases business and its future.

Unprecedented change

The conference began with the opening address of BCGA President Richard Gearing, who paid deference to the absent Thornton, explaining, “I’d like to welcome you all and thank you all for coming here today for the 2016 BCGA Annual Conference. Sadly, Doug Thornton won’t be with us today, he’s desperately sorry he won’t be here, and I’m sure you will join me in wishing him a speedy recovery.”

“It’s been an interesting two years as President and, over this time, we’ve seen unprecedented change in the industry,” he continued. “A global economic slowdown, the result of pressure on the manufacturing sector; the collapse of oil prices; a crisis in China, offloading its unwanted steel all around the globe and in particular into the UK, with UK steel just hanging on; and a significant number of our customers using gases either going to the wall, or cutting back dramatically.”

“As if that’s not enough to be going on with, now we have the EU referendum to look forward to – the ‘Brexit’ vote.”

Gearing went on to explain that BCGA membership now totals 84, with 73 full members and a further 11 associate members, and reflected on both another busy year for the association in 2015 and its proactive nature going forward.“As I’m sure Doug would echo, the BCGA never stands still. We are constantly looking forward and through the addition of one of our most recent TSC’s (Technical Sub-Committee), are helping to set the standards that will drive innovation such as LNG, CNG and hydrogen as the transport fuels of the future.”

“Bringing innovation and sound technical solutions to enable our customers to remain competitive, in an ever-increasing global economy, is critical – as is our campaign to ensure the recommendations that underpin our operations are adopted and implemented industry-wide.”

Traction

Much of this activity was then summarised by BCGA Technical Manager Jake Lake, with particular mention given to the ever-increasing focus on medical gases regulation and legislation surrounding all foods – and the gases used to produce/process foods.

Lake explained that no less than 20 new documents were published by the BCGA in 2015, taking the total in circulation to 85, with many more in the pipeline.

Air Liquide’s David Hurren then drilled down deeper into the subject of alternative fuels and noted, “Transport is a big problem. Of all the areas where industry has moved forward and emissions have been reduced, transport has not moved forward – emissions have actually gone up.”

“There is no golden bullet for this,” he continued, “but alternative fuels will be an important part of our future and our children’s future.”

Hurren paid particular emphasis to hydrogen as a vehicle fuel and rallied, “It’s beginning to gain traction. For some time we’ve had the ‘chicken and egg’ situation but we’re now seeing a lot of investment and definitive networks coming together. We’re beginning to see a lot more movement.” He explained that there should be up to 600 stations in Europe by 2020, with the majority of these in Germany.

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Following Hurren, Gas detection instruments and compressed gases were discussed by Leigh Greenham, Director for the Council of Gas Detection & Environmental Monitoring (CoGDEM), John Mairs – Deputy Head of the Dangerous Goods Division for the Department for Transport – spoke about the work of his department and some of the proposals that could amend the international regulations governing the transport of compressed gases, and energy and carbon reporting schemes and taxation policies were insightfully addressed by Julie Gartside, Technical Director for SLR Consulting.

Gartside encouraged, “There’s a lot of lethargy around the subject, because we all know it isn’t really a problem at the moment and it isn’t costing too much. But we need proportional action and we need it now, because we have a big challenge ahead of us.”

Purposely addressed

After a refreshing lunch break, the stage was set for The Welding Institute’s (TWI) Rob Shaw to give an overview of the developments in arc welding processes and the role of shielding gases, followed by the esteemed Angela Scrutton, OBE, of the Home Office, who explained journey behind the new Psychoactive Substances (NPS) Act 2016 - a new law welcomed by the BCGA – and how it outlaws the supply of so-called ‘legal highs’. This includes nitrous oxide, which has seen an upsurge in recreational use and has been ‘purposely addressed and covered’ by the Act.

Chris Parkin from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) kept delegates abreast of the latest developments in Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles (ULEVs), Dave Walton - the Chief Fire Officers Association lead on hazardous materials for West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service - gave an insight into both the scope and activity of the service and the management of incidents involving hazardous material, while Spiritus Consulting’s John Raquet then presented the global gases business in 2015 and questioned, where do we go from here?

Raquet, also Publisher and CEO of gasworld, listed the industry’s challenges as he sees them – including over-capacity in the gases industry and various end-user applications – before asking some searching questions of what the industry might need to address to ensure bright times in the future. Suggestions ranged from a continud focus on cost efficiency and the requirement for R&D investment, to a complete re-assessment of the industrial gas business model and supply chain.

He did, however, offer optimism and concluded, “I believe our future will be bright, because all of these things will happen not just in the next few years, but in the next decade.”

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It was then left to world-class runner and Olympic athlete Derek Redmond (pictured) to provide the final presentation of the day, a thoroughly motivational speech that left the conference in high spirits and challenged everyone to never give up – whether in sport or business.

Gearing officially closed the conference, paying further tribute to the absent Thornton and his now 10 years of service at the BCGA, and noting that the show will go on again when the BCGA Annual Conference returns on Thursday 6th April 2017.