Only one week remains until the Beijing bonanza explodes into life. Carrying the Olympic torch into China has been the sprint finish to a marathon of preparation, infrastructure development and ultimately industrial gas demand.

Beyond the fanfare, the drama, the competition and the sporting history, lay the role of gases in staging perhaps the most prestigious sporting showcase - the Olympic Games.

It’s not only in the Olympics or football World Cups that gases are involved in sports and leisure, the list is most likely exhaustive, if not endless. When it comes to it, gases really are everywhere and the sporting world provides just another example of growth drivers.

So how are gases involved? And where? Where can we expect to see growth arising in future?

Olympics and infrastructure
Regarded in some corners as possibly the pinnacle of sporting events, the Olympic Games are capable of uniting nations in the spirit of sport and more practically, providing a significant injection of investment to a country or region’s economy.

To stage such an event, a location must first prove it either has the necessary infrastructure in place, or is prepared and capable of implementing this in the years prior to the occasion. The required infrastructure ranges from sports stadia and commodities, to adequate road networks and transport provisions.

Such criteria are generally applicable to all sports and leisure activities including football tournaments, motor racing events, and even music festivals.

In the development of such infrastructure lies the role of industrial gases, in varying forms and applications. This may be via gases in chemicals and electronics, food & beverages, or steel production.

The International Iron & Steel Institute (IISI) recorded a total steel output rise of around 7.7% for the first eleven months of 2007, to reach 1.2 billion tonnes. Most analysts apparently confess that China is a major contributor to growth of late and that without China, the rest of the world grew by only 3% in 2006.

Growth in the People’s Republic over the past five years has stimulated demand for steel across Asia and East Europe, while China itself is investing in more steel capacity and upgrading steel production complexes.

Industrial gases play a significant role in the steel making process and serve to reduce production costs, such as the consumption of raw materials like the injection of oxygen in the blast furnace, which allows the steel companies to consume less coking coal.

Something of a double-edge sword however, Chinese steel production is likely to actually suffer in 2008 as a result of the Olympics. While it may have prospered from the infrastructure development for the games, the steel industry in the country was expected to falter slightly amid the drive to clean-up the air around Beijing - with large producers forced to close facilities for six months or temporarily relocate away from the area.

Gases in sport extend beyond steel production though. Turning the clock back to 2006 for example, and the industrial gas community even had an involvement in the lighting of the Winter Olympics torch as Italy’s Cavagna Group provided 12,000 pressure regulators for the famous flame device.

The Turin Winter Games were officially underway with the arrival of the torch at the opening ceremony on 10th February (2006), having been lit on 8th December 2005 and paraded across its customary journey to the event.

The aluminium torch contained a propane-propylene cylinder for which a tailor-made regulator was designed and produced by Cavagna, to reduce the gas pressure in the cylinder and guarantee a yellow-orange coloured flame for all to see.

Just one of the many examples of gases in the sports industry, the lighting of the Olympic flame could be seen as a beacon of gases burning bright in this field.

Fast-forward to summer 2008 and a plethora of diverse applications have highlighted this involvement.

Beijing boom
This summer’s Olympic Games in China has courted controversy for all the wrong reasons, as debate has raged over the country’s pollution problems and even its political stance towards its neighbours.

It has also afforded the industrial gas business with a healthy growth driver, however. So where can this be seen?

Back in 2006, gasworld reported that fuel cell buses were to be used as part of the transport network at the Beijing games, utilising Air Products’ hydrogen fuelling technology.

Several fuel cell buses are planned for ‘shuttle use’ during the 2008 games and Air Products’ Series 300 fuelling technology is implemented at a BP station in Beijing, a system that compresses and dispenses hydrogen to vehicles.

“Three buses and 21 cars are powered by Air Products’ hydrogen fuelling technology,” Saw Choon Seong, General Manager of Air Products China Merchant Gases, pointed out.

“These vehicles will be used to transport athletes and visitors during the Beijing Olympics – the first demonstration project for new, clean energy vehicles in China, which is a matter close to the heart of the Chinese Government at this Olympics and beyond,” he told gasworld.

While this year it is the Beijing Olympics, in two years’ time it will be the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. Although not a sporting event, it will be a high profile global event held in China, and combating pollution is high priority for the government.

Saw revealed that Air Products’ hydrogen fuelling technology is not the only contribution that the company has made to the Olympics, but also in a ‘clean Olympics’ mission of another kind – a dope-free Games.

Air Products is supplying the China Anti-doping Laboratory with its specialty gases such as helium, carbon dioxide and other calibration gases for detection and testing functions. The gases will be used in gas chromatography to analyse chemicals in a complex sample, in the China Anti-doping Laboratory.

Another example of the company’s involvement is in the electronics and semiconductors field, which requires a whole host of gases for manufacturing microchips and integrated circuits.

These run the many electronic products like notebook computers and digital cameras and Saw added, “If you look at all these electronics devices, I’m sure you will find Air Products’ gases or technology are used in the manufacture of those notebook computers that journalists and officials are using at the Olympics, in the millions of digital cameras being used to capture exciting moments, or the LCD TV that people use to watch the games.”

“We have seen the upward trend of gases demand coming from these markets over the last few years. The strong market demand is driven by increasing domestic consumption and the Olympic Games is a factor in this increase.”

Whether considered as a direct or indirect correlation, an Olympic-size event such as this year’s Beijing games also presents opportunities for gases in the food & beverages sector, with Air Products’ industrial gases like liquid oxygen and its oxygen-boosting technology used to make glass for beverage bottles.

Its technical expertise & products are also required for keeping food products both fresh, and safe for consumption – but it is not just Air Products benefitting from the Olympics.

A number of contracts have been awarded to Praxair China to support the provisions for the games, with the company suitably positioned to cater for the increased gases demand.

Describing the strong relationship between sports, leisure and increased industrial gas demand, President of Praxair China David Chow exclusively told gasworld, “In our view, the connection is as great as with all other industries.”

“Sports infrastructure as with any other infrastructure requires bricks and mortar to be constructed. The building of any structure requires the use of industrial gases, the development of roads that lead to the facilities, the preparation of raw materials for the structures such as steel, and plastics all have a direct link back to industrial gases,” Chow said.

“The fact that more sports related infrastructure is being constructed leads to a greater demand for industrial gases, and Praxair is excellently positioned to meet the demands of these new requirements as the leading supplier of gases in China.”

Indeed, the company would appear to be favourably placed to cope with demand - as highlighted by the contracts secured in connection with gases.

The company announced in March this year that it would be the exclusive supplier of oxygen to three wastewater treatment plants that will supply the Beijing Games. The supply contract signed between Beijing Praxair Inc. and the Beijing Drainage Group Co. Ltd will see oxygen delivered to plants located in the Qinghe, Beixiaohe, and Jiuxianqiao sections of the city for treatment processes.

Less than a month later and the company had revealed further agreements with water treatment firms, again spurred by the Olympic Games.

Beijing Praxair Inc. inked contracts with Beijing No.3 Water Works and Tiancunshan Water Works affiliated to the Beijing Waterworks Group Co. Ltd for oxygen supply to the plants, which will provide fresh drinking water for the city as it stages the event.

Commenting on the contracts secured and the increasing drive for gases in water treatment processes, Chow said, “Yes, we’re proud of winning the contracts, as we use our leading edge technologies for the benefit of the Beijing Olympic Games and the water treatment industry itself in China.”

“In this way, we have also helped the local government to improve the overall water conditions. Regarding the trend, as the leader in water treatment applications, Praxair China is optimistic about the future prospects of using industrial gases and related technologies in this segment. At present Praxair China serves over 20 locations in China for their drinking water and wastewater treatment.”

And what of the need for this application in future?

Chow added, “We see the future needs as a great one, as the example that the city of Beijing has set will be replicated throughout China. We are confident in our continuing leading position in this segment as we begin to commercialise these applications throughout China.”

Another example that we may well see replicated in future is that of manipulating Mother Nature, if initial experiments are successful.

So great is the desire for a flourishing games and opening ceremony in Beijing, that meteorologists in China are testing the use of liquid nitrogen to reduce the rainfall and guarantee a dry opening to the event.

Scientists have been experimenting by seeding clouds with liquid nitrogen or silver iodide in efforts to curb rainfall and had recently recorded some triumphs with the trials.

So how does the industrial gas business see itself affected by large events such as the Olympic Games?

Praxair China's Chow comments, $quot;It is natural that the Olympic Games generate more business for the city and country where it is held - for example we also supplied the welding gases used in construction of the National Stadium (Bird's Nest) and we will ramp up supply to the beverage industry in preparation for the increased consumption during the Games.$quot;

“However, the demand for industrial gases comes not just from prominent events like the Games but also from development of a city, region or an industrial sector. Praxair China serves a wide variety of industries including chemicals, electronics, food & beverage, healthcare, metals & metal fabrication, and water treatment, through the production, sale, distribution and value-added application of industrial gases.$quot;

Speaking from a considerable wealth of experience in the provision of gases and services, Chow concluded, $quot;Our experience tells us that as the basic industrial production of any region expands, the use of industrial gases expands at a rate that is one and a half times greater. So any increase in growth is good for the industrial gases business.$quot;

Supporting South Africa
Good for the industrial gas business too, is the prospective football World Cup to be held in South Africa in now less than two years time (2010).

Around $3.7bn-plus had been estimated as the level of investment made by South Africa to stage the event, spent largely on developing road infrastructure, transport systems, and building new stadiums.

This figure could well have risen considerably by the time the tournament kicks-off, with five of the country's football stadiums to undergo renovations, new stadiums to be built in Cape Town and Durban, and two current stadia in Kings Park and Cape Town to become completely new multi-sports facilities.

Such construction efforts in South Africa are cited as boosting demand for steel and cement, while figures from independent gas analysts Spiritus Consulting suggest that the metallurgy end-use market is set to grow by around 9% for the period 2006-2011 and reach a gas revenues value of around $11.6m in 2011.

As well as conventional infrastructure development as might be expected anywhere else, the 2010 World Cup will pose other challenges for South Africa as it implements measures for efficient lighting programmes, solar water-heating programmes, and fuel switching to LPG for example.

It's not the winning.....
The sporting saying goes that it's 'not the winning, but the taking part counts' and for the industrial gas community, it appears that participation is an immense growth driver.

This is highlighted by the activities in both Beijing and South Africa, while future events and tournaments such as the London 2012 Olympics and probably debut Formula One motor racing weekends in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, India and South Korea could all afford future growth.

With just one week remaining until the start of the Beijing Games, the role of gases in the sports arena has perhaps never been more evident - an involvement that could become even greater in future decades as industrialisation takes hold and pollution-busting technologies are required along with other infrastructure developments.