Season’s Greetings one and all – it’s that time of year again! Fun-filled days fuelled by gases, from the argon in decorative lighting to the electronics gases that helped manufacture a range of laptops, smartphones, and electronic devices.
Then there are the beverage gases in the sparkling drinks we enjoy, and the modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) of countless food items that we’ll be serving up this festive season.
But enough about these traditional applications of gas and equipment, what new developments have we learned about this calendar year? The last 12 months have barely come to an end and already I find myself looking back at some of the things that have stood out in 2012.
It’s been quite a year, with news and views covering a whole range of topics within the industrial gases business. From M&A to LNG and from helium to homecare, we’ve seen the dynamics and demands of the industry evolve. It seems it’s very much the time for the industry to position itself for the next waves of growth.
Looking at 2012 as a fiscal year and not necessarily a calendar one, and it has also been another robust and resilient period for the gases industry, bucking the trend in many mature markets and withstanding considerable economic headwinds across the globe.
So what will you look back upon in 2012?
Homecare perhaps, and the many major deals that have gone down in the homecare sector this year?
The Linde Group’s acquisition of Florida-based Lincare Holdings emphasised the growing significance of this market to the gas community, as did Air Liquide’s takeover of Spain’s GASMEDI, those being just two of a number of high profile transactions in the healthcare at home business in 2012.
Too obvious? How about the ongoing shortages in the helium market, and the general consensus of late that with new major new capacity coming on-stream until mid 2013, these shortages are likely to be with us for some time yet?
Both of these areas stand out in my mind as key talking points this year, but I was also honoured and privileged to have interviewed a number of esteemed industry figures, from outgoing TNSC Chairman Hirosuke Matsueda to IBG founder and CEO Newton de Oliveira, and from MOCON President and CEO Robert Demorest to iGas Journal’s Rack Soon Lee.
There’s been so many things that I’ve learned or documented this year that it’s hard to narrow down any particular key points, but if I could take just three things from 2012 that offer either glad tidings for the industry, they would be:
· Shale gas and LNG
· Liquid Air
When I came to gasworld five years ago, LNG wasn’t on the radar. It wasn’t an industrial gas, it didn’t have the same hype as hydrogen, and it wasn’t particularly topical. Oh how that has changed, for both gasworld and the industrial gas community.
It still isn’t an industrial gas, but it certainly is topical and it is – potentially – big business for the industrial gas and equipment industry. It’s been interesting to see that prominence evolve over the last half-decade and appear to reach a crescendo only two weeks ago in Miami, Florida at the North American Industrial Gas Conference 2012.
The shale gas glut in the US and the rising LNG trade captured the attention of around 200 delegates in Miami and the buzz for this new opportunity was so very evident.
Some describe it as ‘game changer’ while others speak of the ‘exciting opportunity’ – one thing is for sure, the cryogenic synergies are there and the LNG industry is going to be big business for the industrial gas and equipment sector from now onwards.
One of the biggest stories we’ve covered this year at gasworld has undoubtedly been the official formation of the Liquid Air Energy Group and the potential for an economy built upon nitrogen (liquid air).
It’s a potentially huge development and something we were delighted to bring you an exclusive supplement dedicated to the concept, a first for gasworld magazine.
In October, I was privileged to spend some time interviewing Olivier Delabroy, Vice-President of R&D at Air Liquide, who described liquid air as something that ‘we cannot ignore’.
“It’s a concept that we are carefully looking at,” he explained. “It is in our territory and we cannot overlook it.”
With such a high profile mainstream media following, an ongoing white paper and the keen interest of the gases business itself, 2013 could prove to be a big year for the liquid air concept.
We’ll keep you up-to-date with all the latest developments in the liquid air story throughout the year.
Something else that attracted much discussion during my interview with Delabroy recently was oxy-combustion, a subject particularly close to his heart.
With the potential to reinvigorate such a myriad of applications, it’s one of the processes or technologies that has really struck me in the last few months.
From the glass industry to emerging sectors like CCS for example, oxy-combustion is a clear route to achieving clean energy, clean power and a cleaner, greener manufacturing industry as a whole. Delabroy is especially effusive about this technology and what it could mean for global industry and in turn, the gases industry. “You need to master oxy-combustion,” he urged.
He also explained that while this a technology that the gases industry needs to get behind and realise the potential of, it is not necessarily something that the industry needs to do alone. Partnering with world-class academics and cross-industry leaders can successfully achieve a ‘joint vision’ and long-term commitments to a cleaner future – while also increasing the financial benefits.
A spirit of collaboration could realise the potential and the profit for the gases industry and at this festive time of community and cheer, that seems like an appropriate message to move on with.
So as the curtain falls on 2012 and a bright and prosperous New Year beckons, there seems to be much hope ahead for the future of the industrial gases business. Shale gas, LNG, liquid air, oxy-combustion, healthcare at home, and even new capacity entering the helium market, and much more, give us reasons to be cheerful as we embark upon 2013.
Season’s Greetings everyone – see you in the New Year!
Finally, aside from glad tidings, it’s worth reminding ourselves about the need for ever-improved safety in handling and using gases.
The quest for safety and standards never ceases, and 2012 has given us yet more reminders of this. We’ve seen some terrible incidents this year that just go to show, safety never loses its significance.
Whether it’s helium inhalation, theatrical-looking cryogenically enhanced cocktails, or the transportation and handling of industrial gas products, the hazardous nature of gases should not be underestimated. When 2013 begins, let’s hope the Zero Ambition becomes reality, globally.