This article comes as we are almost a year into dealing with the global pandemic and the subsequent effect on the US economy and business markets. Like other parts of the industrial gas business, US air gases, the bread and butter of the industrial gas (IG) business, has been impacted in some markets more than others by businesses closing or scaling back to manage the spread of Covid-19. More resilient markets included healthcare, electronics, and food processing while the greatest negative impact was on the manufacturing and metals sector. This is consistent with US economic data. We begin 2021 with the hopes of a return to normal through vaccines with the prospect of coming out of this economic recession at the end of the year and moving forward into 2022.
Announcements of domestic air separation unit (ASU) and liquefaction builds and expansions for startup through 2023 trickled in during 2020, indicating the impact the economic effects the pandemic has had on the US air gases business. On a positive note, at the end of 2020, five new or expanded ASUs with liquefaction came on-line and an additional seven new/expansions and replacement ASUs are expected to come on-stream in 2021. Improvements to plant capacities from de-bottlenecking and reaming out of nameplate capacities continues as well.
By 2022 we should experience improvement in the economic landscape bringing back demand for oxygen, nitrogen, and argon across a number of sectors, especially in fabricated metals, automotive, and food; and stainless steel and electronics for argon. Production of argon has always been dependent on large volume oxygen production at ASUs.
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