Resources, education, understanding, and an improved global position were all issues raised at the gasworld African Conference. Here we provide more of an insight into some of the topics explored.

After the discussion, debate and networking at the gasworld African Conference in June, we delivered a review of the event and the fun & frivolity that came with it. Beyond the veil of adventure and business opportunities however, lay the fundamental factors for the conference – to address the African industrial gas market and the challenges this continent faces.

Here, we offer a follow-up review of some of the presentations and further probe the topics discussed.

Addressing Africa
Having provided the conference’s opening presentation and officially welcomed delegates, Richards Bay Coal Terminal Executive Chairman Kuseni Dlamini discussed the resource and knowledge base required in Africa, for the continent to continue with its rapid progression.

Dlamini, as guest speaker, noted, “I believe Africa needs to build up the knowledge and expertise in particular areas and industries.”

The challenges for Africa are also issues that are faced worldwide at present though, with Dlamini citing the effects of globalisation as something that requires serious consideration both for the African continent and elsewhere.

“We are living in an era marked by common shortages all over the world, only last year we had a shortage of carbon dioxide in Africa and last year a shortage of helium around the world,” he explained.

“Globalisation is not something that just imparts on Africa in a negative way, it imparts on us all over the world. I think we need a much more sober debate, a much more informed conversation about the topic of globalisation.”

Standards in Africa
A much closer eye on standards was encouraged too, as regulations in South African industry took centre stage at the close of day one.

Sazi Zangqas of both the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) was well placed to converse the subject of standardisation and explained operations across South Africa.

“The sole purpose of us is to have eyes on the standards in South Africa. We only have three aims at SADC – to promote regional cooperation, facilitate the exchange of information, and also to facilitate the adoption of regional standards.”

Underlining the importance of single, unified standards across the country, Zangqas added, “If there’s any conflict of standards that causes a problem because there is SADC harmonised standards.”

Indeed, standards and safety was a theme that prevailed throughout the conference as Gas Package Solutions’ Dr Roy Irani urged the safe and consistently vigilant use of gas cylinders, and Afrox’s Innocentia Mbatha explored pharmaceutical standards and medicine control.

Afrox (African Oxygen Limited) is the largest gases and welding products supplier in South Africa and offers a diverse range of services in the sub-Saharan market, now as part of The Linde Group following the acquisition of BOC.

The company provides a range of medical gases and services to the healthcare industry in South Africa, among numerous other industries served, and just ten days before the conference had again demonstrated its commitment to the medical cause by announcing investment of R3m in strategic supply tanks for secure medical oxygen supply at South Africa’s Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.

The company has a strong and proud association with the healthcare sector in Africa and as Quality & Regulatory Affairs Manager for Afrox, Mbatha stressed the importance of a stringent and cautious approach to medical gases and standards.

“Medical gases are different because they are given to people who are totally dependent on them. So if we get it wrong here there is a potential that someone could die,” she explained with clarity.

“We do have counties where medical gases have not been given status as medicinal products. So what is happening in countries like Africa? Before you sell you have to get a product registration certificate and with regards to the manufacturing facilities you need to have trained personnel.”

Rand Air & Gas’ Allan Sparrow chose to cover the history of cryogenics in South Africa during his presentation, highlighting once again how the aforementioned issues of skill-sets and a comprehensive knowledge base are just as detrimental to industrial evolution as resources.

Sparrow approached a rough guide to the history of cryogenic equipment manufactured in South Africa, the industrial research and development behind this, and the challenges for future in this area.

Establishing the country and the entire African continent on the global stage is just one of these hurdles, as Sparrow noted, “The power shortages which caused us so many problems earlier this year, the cost of raw materials due to the demand in the East, we have a shortage of skilled man-power in Africa as you all know – we have to take them and give them the opportunity to develop and grow.”

“We need South Africa to become a global player,” he added.

Northern promise
If much potential is afforded in Southern Africa, what of the Northern African market and its dynamics?

The Spiritus Group’s John Raquet had already provided an independent insight into the growth prospects for the continent’s industrial gas market and noted its value at around $1.3bn in 2007, adding that, “our view is that the African market is going to be the highest growth market in the next few years.”

A further glimpse of trends north of the Sahara was delivered by Magrheb Oxygene’s Laila Benali, discussing the Moroccan gases market and the company’s involvement in the region.

Benali explained, “We have the vision of becoming an active player in the development, innovation and growth of the Moroccan industry. We think that Air Liquide has around 50% of the market, we have around 40% and there is another company with 10%.”

It seems that Maghreb Oxygene is well positioned then, to play an active role in the Moroccan market and it also emerged that the expansion and overall development within the country is likely to trigger increased gas demand.

“The growth of the market I think will be driven with new health regulations and new infrastructure projects. Morocco is investing in new airport terminals, new buildings and it is time to really grow in this area,” Benali revealed and added, “Also, as Mr Raquet announced this morning, the on-site business is really growing in North Africa.”

Considering global perspectives
Amid the African awareness, there was also time to spare a few moments thought for the global industry gas business and the trends either driving or affecting this both now and in the future.

Speaking on day one, Dominion Gas’ Christopher Peck had reflected on the ‘exciting and stimulating’ industrial gas business and when touching upon the current economic climate and escalating oil prices, noted that this is in fact stimulating the gases industry.

This view was supported by the Spiritus Group’s Raquet later in the day, as the independent industrial gas consultancy’s Managing Director explained the industry’s healthy position and developing dynamics.

“Our industry has got some very favourable dynamics, first of all over the last 25 years it’s continued to grow. There’s never been a drop really in this gas business in 25 years,” Raquet enthused.

“The predictions are that the industrial gas business is going to continue to grow strongly. There’s still room for efficiency gain, there is always room to improve your operations.”

With the many global issues that we all face in today’s uncertain economic outlook, it would be easy to question whether there is light at the end of the tunnel. A view held by some is that there are positives to emerge from crises like the current problem of skyrocketing oil prices, as necessity breeds creation and industry is spurred on to develop alternative fuel and energy solutions.

Just as Dominion Gas’ Peck had earlier suggested, the changing face of the energy sector is opening up new horizons as Raquet explained, “We’re really well suited to address the world focus on the environment.”

“Basically over the last couple of years there’s been a rise in oil prices. Over time there’s been a link between the increase in oil prices and the increase in demand for industrial gases. They’re all favourable dynamics for our industry.”