Air Liquide has announced a first half profit rise of 16 percent, as net income rose to €556m and growth was driven by new contracts in the US and China and sales of oxygen and hydrogen to oil and health-care companies.

Experiencing growth in orders to supply oxygen and other gases to Asian steelmakers and oil companies, Air Liquide CEO Benoit Potier commented, $quot;In the first half, all businesses and all geographies experienced significant growth, with the second quarter particularly good in Asia. For 2007, we maintain our goal to reach double-digit growth in net profit.$quot;

Air Liquide's sales rose 2.7 percent €5.63bn with earnings helped by cost cuts. The Paris-based company and rivals Linde AG and Praxair Inc. are benefiting from growing demand for hydrogen, which refiners use to remove sulphur from fuels.

Contracts announced by the company in the second quarter included one to provide oxygen and nitrogen to Royal Dutch Shell Plc's new cracker and mono-ethylene glycol plant in Singapore and another to supply gases to China's Dongbei Special Steel Group.

The French company is moving closer to a $50m project at its Oyster Creek Plant meanwhile, with Port Freeport Commissioners recently granting a seven-year tax abatement for the planned growth which will include construction of an air separation unit on two acres of land next to the current plant.

Port commissioners agreed to a graduating abatement of 100 percent for the first two years, dropping 5 percent per year until 2014 when it will become 75 percent. The expansion is expected to come online in late 2008 at a value of $50m and with as many as 100 construction jobs created.