When we look back on 200 issues of gasworld magazine and almost 20 years of chronicling the global industrial gas world, it’s impossible not to be drawn to the topics that have in many ways defined the industry in that timeframe.
As one might expect, many of the same products or topics have reverberated in the industrial gas echo chamber, while other, emerging megatrends have increasingly come to the fore – in some ways, inescapably so. We see this on a daily basis at gasworld, both in the statistics we analyse closely and the conversations we have with those within the industry, but also in the broader trend lines that are so evident to those that study this incredible industry.
Six key trends have dominated the industrial gas headlines in the last half-decade and since gasworld celebrated its 100th issue in 2013. Here we tell the story of those hot topics and pick out the highlights of the most popular 200 stories at gasworld since 2015.
Unsurprisingly, the Covid-19 pandemic has been one of the biggest stories the world has seen in the last century, let alone gasworld and its last century of magazines.
A once-in-a-century global pandemic, it would so unexpectedly and irrevocably change the world. The pandemic has challenged our healthcare systems, our ways of living and how we interact and do business; in many ways, it’s changed our very way of being.
This most devastating of public health emergencies was so strikingly embodied by scenes of significant supply chain shortages for the one treatment it desperately required – medical oxygen. It’s no surprise then, that since March 2020, some of the biggest stories online at gasworld.com have been Covid-related; whether concerning oxygen shortages and supply, economic and business impacts, or the lessons learned from this crisis. It dominates the top 250 stories online since 2015 and has of course been an ever-present undercurrent of conversation and analysis in no less than 22 of our last 100 print editions.
Indeed, a story reporting the ‘Expected impact of coronavirus on Pakistan’ remains gasworld’s most-read story in the last six years, by some margin – highlighting the clamour for information at a time of such uncertainty. And so that story of Covid sadly continues…
A mega-merger of equals
Again, unsurprisingly – though it may have faded from view in the last two years – one of the biggest topics to have dominated the gasworld headlines over the last 100 issues has been the mega-merger of equals that created Linde plc as we know it today.
June 2017: Praxair, Inc. and The Linde Group signed a definitive agreement on a merger of equals worth $70bn, in a deal which would see two of the biggest players in the global industrial gases business come together. It promised to change the face of the industry for the second time in as many years, following Air Liquide’s acquisition of fellow Tier One company Airgas, Inc. in 2015/16. And it duly did.
After a lengthy process of regulatory checks and balances, negotiations, divestments and other business wranglings that come with such colossal deals, approval from the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and European Commission had been the final pieces in the merger’s jigsaw.
On 22nd October 2018 it was confirmed that the deal would complete: a $90bn merger of equals, creating Linde plc, the new global industrial gas leader. The combined entity would represent 2017 pro forma revenues of approximately $27bn, a market capitalisation of approximately $90bn (€78bn), and over 80,000 employees across more than 100 countries serving over two million customers.
That story from 22nd October remains the second most-read story on the gasworld website since 2015 and was essentially the subject of a whole special edition of gasworld magazine in November 2018. At another time when the business world craved all the latest news, views and nuances of information from the story as it unfolded, gasworld (and gasworld Business Intelligence) was widely recognised as being at the forefront.
And it’s not just been the story itself – we’ve been delighted to pick up the story of all of the aftershocks and new beginnings ever since, from Air Water’s acquisition of the Praxair India business, to the arrival of Nippon Gases Europe on the market and its vision for Europe in the years ahead. The latter has arguably been one of the biggest stories on the European gases scene and the company continues to make exciting strides forward.
In at number six on our list of the top 250 stories since 2015, is an update from esteemed helium expert Phil Kornbluth (Kornbluth Helium Consulting) on the market outlook in mid-2020. Need we say more?
Few of us would be surprised to know that stories of the rollercoaster ride in helium markets dominate that top 250 list over the last half-decade, and have of course shaped many an issue of gasworld magazine in that time too. Along with carbon dioxide (CO2), it’s the perennial hot topic for the industry and its end-users – it’s a by-product supply chain at the mercy of its feedstocks and often walking a tightrope of supply-demand imbalance.
As many as 24 of the top 250 stories (most-read) at gasworld.com since 2015 have been helium-related – a tenth of all most popular content. When we consider that’s against the backdrop of our two aforementioned topics (Covid-19 and the mega-merger), as well as the next, that’s a pretty impressive return.
Will that still be the case in another century of magazines? Who knows – the global helium business is on the verge of a whole new era in its supply chain, structure and geographical balance. One thing is clear: it remains one of the most important products not just for our industry but a growing range of applications, and the helium story still has significant mileage yet to run.
Now to that other perennial hot topic – CO2 and more specifically, CO2 shortages. Another complex supply chain at the mercy of its feedstocks – namely the ammonia business and ethanol markets as the primary protagonists – and carefully in balance, the CO2 business is hot on the heels of helium in our most-read stories over the last half-decade.
As many as 19 dedicated CO2 stories make the list and, if we add dry ice-related articles into that mix (7/250), then we’re looking at more than a tenth of our hit list in the last six years. More recent stories on the on-off CO2 shortages in the UK and US feature prominently in our most-read list, underlining gasworld’s authority as the source of the news and analysis that matters and at the same time, the sheer importance that the world has woken up to when it comes to CO2 supply. New plant announcements, new sourcing routes and of course those headline stories of summer 2018 – when the European CO2 market was in the grip of intense shortages – also feature prominently.
The role of dry ice in facilitating the early distribution of Covid-19 vaccines has also been a popular story over the last year, as reflected in our list.
Hydrogen, clean energies and decarbonisation
As we continue to explore the big stories of the last 100 issues, we return to two global megatrends – and they don’t get much bigger than this.
As we know and as gasworld has informed for many years now, two of the biggest market forces for the global industrial gases business now and in its future, are decarbonisation and digitisation. The subject of clean energies, sustainability and hydrogen in particular has shaped countless editions of gasworld magazine, international (gasworld) events and online content in this timeframe – and continues to do so as we move forward.
Why? Because the industrial gas and equipment has such an integral role to play in this transition, from its expertise in water treatment and all shades of hydrogen through to its ability to enable and maximise carbon capture and utilisation. Put simply, we cannot decarbonise or move to clean energies without our industry. Equally, of course, as an energy intensive industry itself, the gases business has its own challenges to meet in sustainability.
So what have been the big strands of this topic for you, our readers? Green hydrogen is clearly one of the hot topics, as evidenced in our most-read list with a recent announcement from Linde, for example – the construction of a new $17m electrolyser plant in New York. The story has moved through the ranks into the top 50, despite being relatively recent. Blue hydrogen has also been a big topic and, specifically, the paradigm shift and the role of blue hydrogen as a bridge to ultimately clean and green fuels; it’s worth noting that another major story of late, Air Products’ announcement of a $4.5bn blue hydrogen complex in Louisiana, has surged into the top 40.
Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) has also been a significant source of information and analysis, while the deep decarbonisation of the cement sector, for example, and the circular economies have garnered much attention.
Along with clean fuels and decarbonisation, digitisation will be at the heart of the future of the gases industry.
This is not necessarily reflected in our online top 250 list, amidst the clamour for content covering helium, CO2, hydrogen and Covid-19, but digitisation has underpinned a great number of editions of gasworld magazine from Issue 100-200. There’s no escaping its impact on the industry, or how interlinked it is to so many of the aforementioned headline-grabbing topics.
The significance of Industry 4.0 and digitisation has also been underlined in gasworld magazine with the launch of our Smart Series of bi-monthly features in recent years – charting everything from the rise of remote working and operations, through to endless steps forward in asset management and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
Other trend lines
Of course, across 100 issues of gasworld magazine and indeed, the top stories of the last 5-6 years, there are so many other talking points and observations – far too many to make here.
We’ve seen various other examples of M&A activity through the years – a recent example being the Uttam Group’s purchase of Catalina Composites in the US – and the emergence of more and more big stories from and concerning the Asia-Pacific region, as it continues to realise its powerhouse potential. Stories concerning LNG in Thailand, a China-Myanmar pipeline, hydrogen fuel in Japan, and Paksitan’s market potential all make our most-read list.
Let’s not forget the increasing re-emergence of gasification processes, technologies and industrial gas demand in our other trend lines too. The expected growth in large-scale ASU projects in the years ahead, linked to syngas and gasification projects, has been a big story to come to the fore in the last six months, while we’re all aware of that huge mega project at Jazan in Saudi Arabia too. Both stories are included in our most-read list.
And finally, look at that apparent anomaly in our list, just edged out of the top three most-read stories of the last six years – an informative profile on sulfur hexafluoride! The gas with a double-edged sword, it clearly continues to capture your attention and epitomises what an incredibly varied and intriguing industry we’re all part of.
It’s been an incredible past 100 issues, just look at the depth and breadth of stories we’ve been able to get our teeth into. We look forward to seeing what shapes the next 100 issues and keeping you at the forefront more than ever before.