The Japanese industrial gas market is still in a phase of gentle recovery following the worldwide economic slow-down in 2009. According to Japan Industrial and Medical Gases Association (JIMGA) statistics, shipment of oxygen (O2) from the North Pacific rim country only reached around 70% of its potential capacity in 2015.
But the demand for general gas consumption in daily life, especially in the agriculture and food sectors, has been steadily increasing in the country. According to The Gas Review, new uses of industrial gas will gradually spread throughout industrialised areas of Japan and will flow into daily lives and applications.
Food and agriculture
The food and beverage industry is a major platform for these daily applications, with the maintenance of food freshness by stabilising quality and controlling the density of O2 used in preservation becoming essential. In an attempt to control and accurately preserve food, dissolving nitrogen (N2) and O2 requires a careful balance.
Additionally, carbon dioxide (CO2) is now being used for the extermination of harmful insects in strawberry plants, as well as working towards increasing production at food factories through promoting photosynthesis.
The demands of the above applications only require a small amount of gas consumption at a time so cylinders, liquefied gas carriers (LGCs) or generators using pressure swing adsorption (PSA) and membrane separators are usually adequate to sustain demand.
It is understood that users of these applications include regional agricultural outfits and fresh fish distributors specifically, as well as the wider food industry. Inevitably, these sectors thrive through close connections to their regions, relying on collecting detailed information and marketing to optimise their industrial gas usage.
It is a rarity to see the economy affect gas demand within the agriculture and food sectors, but considering Japan’s continuing decrease in population, The Gas Review predicts it will be hard to see potential and further growth in this area.
Healthcare and life sciences
New developments are also being made in the healthcare and life science sectors in Japan, where movement is being seen towards a healthier and generally better quality of life.
New developments are also being made in the healthcare and life science sectors in Japan, where movement is being seen towards a healthier and generally better quality of life. In addition to conventional O2, nitrous oxide and nitric oxide already in use, hydrogen (H2), helium (He) and xenon (Xe) are all being readied for clinical use in medical based products.
Treatment and drug development using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) is bringing a new added value to the sector, whilst the application of systems using gases such as CO2 and liquid N2, is indispensable for the cultivation and preservation of cells and tissues.
When it comes to Japanese manufacturing, more and more innovations in both daily life and the industrial market are appearing. A boom of metal 3D printers in 2015 accelerated the making of metal prototype products - the art of forming 3D objects whilst melting fine metal powder with a laser beam. The technology is effective in creating and testing prototypes, omitting the traditional moulding process, and has taken off in Japan in recent years. Like the laser cutting process, inert gases such as N2 and argon (Ar) are filled during the process to prevent oxidisation of the metal.
In the manufacturing process, the use of fine powder is an indispensable method for the manufacturing of high grade products, regardless of the type of metal being used. As such, controlling the atmosphere of inert gases is crucial in the refining process.
Electronics and energy
Onto electronics, and semiconductor devices, such as deep ultra-violet LEDs and sensors installed on cars, are thriving in the Japanese industry. LEDs with ultraviolet wavelengths are becoming increasingly popular for sensors and sterilisation and to remove harmful material.
The Gas Review anticipates that compound type power integrated circuits (ICs) will contribute to the energy conservation of industrial equipment in the coming years. These devices are produced using the semiconductor fabrication process and will lead to an increased demand for H2 and N2 gases on an industrial level.
And finally, in the energy field, refining biogas is becoming increasingly popular as a form of renewable energy in addition to added H2 demand for fuel cell vehicles (FCVs). Moreover, there is a potential new demand for coolant gas in binary power generation, whereby power is generated by recovering exhaust heat.
Generally, the application of gas related to security, purging, construction and analysis will remain as long as relative cultural activities in Japan continue. On the whole, the applications outlined above signify new movements beginning to take place in Japanese industrial gas usage on a day-to-day basis.
The Gas Review, issue no. 415