When it comes to industrial gases in North Africa, there’s few independent players as advanced or well-known as Maghreb Oxygene.

That’s just as well, because Casablanca-based Maghreb Oxygene – or MOX as it’s also known – intends to consolidate its position in the Moroccan gases business and play a key role in driving the country’s industry forward.

Further still, MOX is ‘always open’ to the idea of entering the neighbouring markets in North/Northwest Africa. The investment climate in Africa is intensifying, with industry and infrastructure under huge development – and MOX is ready to capture the increased gases demand this generates, both in Morocco and further afield.

A subsidiary of the successful AKWA Group, MOX was born out from the will and creative thinking of founder Hmad Ould Haj, a story familiar to many gasworld readers.

The AKWA Group is entrenched in the energy sector through more than 50 companies and focuses notably on the Fuel & Lubricants and Petroleum markets. In 1962 however, the group established its gas business under the Afriquia Gaz brand and as Haj became aware of the need for diversity in the Moroccan gases market, MOX was founded in October 1976 and sought to seize upon this opening.

All those decades ago, industrial gases in Morocco was a market stifled by monopoly, with just one major player recognised as the existing supplier of industrial oxygen at the time. Fast-forward 33 years, and MOX has firmly seized the opportunity to become self-sufficient and bring diversity to the Moroccan market.

Initially the company not only broke the oxygen monopoly, but also provided nitrogen and acetylene production. This production was extended in 1982, to include nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide as MOX began to corner the market for industrial, medical and specialty gases. With its listing on the Casablanca stock exchange in 1999, the start of the new millennium saw the MOX brand enhanced and the company firmly established as the leader for medical and food gases in Morocco.

Consolidation & leadership
Now, as the close of 2010 nears, MOX is into its fourth decade of business and considered to play a key role in a number of areas within the Moroccan gases market.

As well as its status as the leader in the country’s on-sites sector, MOX produces an array of gases which now spans oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, acetylene, and also hydrogen.

With the backing of its ever-growing parent the AKWA Group in its armoury, MOX is also active in the distribution of welding equipment and materials and the distribution of medical, scientific and laboratory equipment and products.

In terms of gases production, MOX operates primarily from three key production sites in Berrechid, Had Soualem and Jorf Lasfar, with another first occurring in 2005 when the company launched its first on-site for the production of oxygen and nitrogen at a steel mill complex.

From its original Berrechid site, launched in 1977, the company operates four production units, producing acetylene, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, while its Had Soualem site has been producing nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen since 1994.

Not content to stand still however, the MOX management team reveal in our interview that another new on-site is currently under construction, scheduled for start-up in early 2011 and taking the company’s number of active production units to eight.

It’s been a rapid rise to prominence and market leadership, but in 2010, the MOX management tells us, the goal was more focused on steady consolidation and stability.

“During 2010 and the coming year, our ambition is mainly to consolidate our assets and optimise our resources in a very competitive market,” MOX explains. “We also have a main goal, which is to succeed in the launching of our new on-site that is expected to start at the beginning of 2011. This on-site is held by a joint venture newly created between Maghreb Oxygene and another important gas producer operating in Morocco.”

“We also aim to grasp new potential opportunities that may appear in high-tech fields.”

“Our competitiveness is hardened in the small consumer markets by numerous small gas producers. We try to be competitive by improving the quality of our product and services rendered to industrial and scientific users. Our knowledge of the Moroccan market and its requirements, makes us more competitive and more reactive to changes in the local environment – and we make adjustments as required by the market.”

“The creation of a new subsidiary, Sodegim, has been our main project since late 2008. Today,” our interviewees continue, “we are in the phase of building the on-site that is located within another steel mill in the neighbourhood of Casablanca. The on-site will actually be producing oxygen, nitrogen and argon for the first time in Morocco.”

“The perspectives for MOX, for the moment, are to preserve the stability of the company and its position in the market.”

The future – A changing marketplace?
MOX’s stable position in the market is without question. As well as its aforementioned expertise, the company leads the way in a number of other end-user industries too, notably mixed gases, food gases and the distribution of medical equipment such as ultrasound machines and X-ray technology.

The MOX management team also sees that moment in 1999, when the company listed on the stock exchange, as a key strength and important to the development of the MOX brand.

“Firstly, we are part of one of the major Moroccan groups, the AKWA Group. But we also succeeded in building an excellent brand image by being listed in the Casablanca stock exchange market since 1999.”

“As a leading independent gas operator, we have partnerships with many international gas operators. We gained the trust of those partners that provide us with products, but also with the services and technology that we can offer, in turn, to the final consumer.”

MOX has certainly gained the trust and respect its market position deserves, and its footing is clearly healthy. But, what of the market itself? How is the Moroccan gases business performing, and what does the future hold?

On the one hand, MOX tells us, the Moroccan industrial gases scene undergoes little change and is still dominated by the traditional applications or growth drivers. On the other hand, however, there’s enough promise in the North African gases business to suggest that the market will be undergoing significant growth and development in the future.

In Morocco alone, a market valued at around DH600m (Moroccan Dirhams) in 2008 and comprised of three main players with an array of smaller producers, there is room for further development. It’s a gases industry under continuous development, as MOX explains, “The Moroccan economy showed a strong resistance to the recent international economic crisis. So, the Moroccan market for gases has only been slightly affected by the global recession. Besides, our customers are very diversified – which in turn, helps us to keep our turnover.”

“The Moroccan gas market is dominated by traditional applications. The gas market is really quite traditional, which ensures the evolution of the market is constant, without important variation whether upward or downward.”

MOX has a vision to become ‘an active player in the development, innovation and growth of the Moroccan industry’ and points out that while the market is without any major change, there is also demand to be catered for from a series of fresh growth drivers, including new health regulations, infrastructure projects, and the construction of new roads and buildings.

Further still, MOX is ‘open’ to its options beyond Morocco too. While the extension toward Algeria is limited today, gasworld understands that opportunities exist for the export of welding products to Southern Europe and MOX is open to new partnerships with fellow African countries.

In closing, the management team adds, “MOX is always open to enter into neighbouring markets in Africa for products such as argon, welding sticks, and the installations for medical gas distribution.”