An ASU capacity expansion in Kenya. A new liquid argon production plant in South Africa. A challenging climate. A conference in Kenya. An ozone viability breakthrough in South Africa. A new on-site for launch in Morocco in 2011.

Those are just some of the things going on across the African gases business of late. It’s a busy time for the African gases industry, with growth largely expected across the board in the coming years as this emerging market approaches fruition.

Economic evolution, investment in the development of a wealth of natural resources, and the entry of new industries are likely to fuel this growth, factors that are consistent from Morocco to Kenya and from Tanzania to South Africa. Some countries across the continent will invariably be more developed than others, but it’s generally an upward trend throughout.

In North Africa, a market that includes the gas businesses of Morocco and Algeria, industrial gas revenues rose 20% in 2009 as revenues of more than $225m in 2008 leapt to approx. $270m in 2009. Affirming the diversity and ongoing evolution of the Moroccan gases scene, Maghreb Oxygene – our interviewee this month – describes a very ‘traditional’ market for industrial gas.

Maghreb Oxygene notes the resilience of the market and its view would appear to support the aforementioned growth rate during 2009 – a tough year for the industrial gas industry.

“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 company explained during our interview.

“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.”

Equally blossoming is the gases business in East Africa, where 2008 revenues of around $60m rose more than 17% to a solid $70m in 2009, the second-largest growth rate across Africa in 2009.

The Kenyan gases market is key to the industrial gas business of East Africa and finds itself in a flourishing position. At the heart of this is Synergy Gases, based on the Mombasa-Nairobi highway and gasworld’s other interviewee this month. CEO Paras Pandya describes Kenya as ‘a growing economy and an economy which is still young and waiting to be exploited’.

Further still, Pandya sees growth driven in the future by ‘job creation that will be created by the entry of new industries’ and believes the gas supply chain in Kenya could be changing in the years to come too.

In our exclusive interview, he explained, “Onsite production is a new concept in Kenya, and we are in talks with the relevant companies on how this is to their advantage. It’s a concept that will be the way forward in the years to come.”

“The majority of sales are of cylinder form and we have now introduced the concept of cylinder bundles, which was a concept never used in Kenya before. However, this is now becoming very popular. Bulk delivery also forms large portion of sales in the area.”

In addition to the growth seen in North and East Africa, in Nigeria and Egypt in particular gas revenue growth rates of 16% and 15% were demonstrated, respectively. There were marginal declines across Southern Africa in 2009, consistent with the impact upon the more developed gas markets of the world; across the African continent, South Africa would probably be considered one of the most developed gases industries.

South Africa still accounts for more than $460m of the Africa industrial gases business, an overall market that was valued at approx. $1.2bn in 2009.

Projects
As described earlier, it’s a busy time throughout the African industrial gases business. A number of projects and developments are underway throughout the continent, though it’s the events in developed country’s like South Africa, Kenya and Morocco that are more likely to be reported.

In Kenya for example, East Africa’s leading industrial and medical gas company BOC Kenya Ltd has been investing in its main ASU since September 2009, enhancing its capacity and efficiency. Also in Kenya, will be the gasworld African Conference 2010, to be held in Nairobi on 1st & 2nd December 2010 and placing the spotlight firmly on the growth opportunities to be realised throughout the gases business in Africa.

More than 3,500 miles (6,000km) north of Nairobi, to Casablanca in Morocco, and leading independent player Maghreb Oxygene is looking ahead to the launch of its new on-site plant at a steel mill complex in Casablanca. The on-site will be producing oxygen, nitrogen and argon for the first time in Morocco, the company told gasworld.

From the tip of North Africa, to the tip of Southern Africa, some 4,700 miles (7,600km) south of Morocco and to South Africa – a hub of project activity. August 2009 saw Air Liquide invest R500m in the country’s manufacturing sector after securing an agreement with Sasol Synfuels (Pty) to install a new liquid argon production plant at the company’s Secunda plant.

The recovery plant, originally scheduled for commissioning late this year, forms part of a new world-scale 3,500 tpd ASU which Sasol has sourced from Air Liquide Engineering.

Air Liquide Healthcare has also been doing its bit for the healthcare sector in Pretoria, South Africa, having installed a state-of-the-art medical air system at a local hospital. While such systems have been in operation in many of Europe’s top hospitals for quite some time, the installation announced early this year represents the first South African and African investiture.

And in another Air Liquide-related development in South Africa, again in Secunda, the company delivered a new Colliery Inertisation System (CIS) or Floxal membrane plant as it is also known. Unveiled in Secunda on 10th March (2010), the system provides a revolutionary method of extinguishing fires in underground coal mines.

South Africa was ranked as the seventh largest producer of coal in 2008 and the system will be an invaluable installation. Also a world-first as it is completely mobile and operates with its own integral power generator, the plant cost R22m to develop and was commissioned by the Collieries Committee of the Chamber of Mines.

Experience has generally proven that the only effective way to extinguish coal mine fires is to reduce the availability of oxygen that forms 21% of air, by flooding the fire to displace the oxygen until its concentration is below 5%. Rather than the logistical challenges of delivering large quantities of liquid gas to a remote mine location, the AMSA Floxal Nitrogen Generator from Air Liquide provides a mobile, more efficient solution.

The system extracts inert nitrogen from ambient air through hollow fibre permeation, which can then be pumped into the underground fire area. With the system being trailer mounted and therefore mobile, it’s a win-win situation for the coal mining industry.

To a similar type of industry, the gold mining sector to be specific, and sub-Saharan Africa’s Afrox revealed a breakthrough for the industry this summer, with the news that ozone may now be a viable solution for cyanide destruction.

Cyanide has long been identified as a hazardous and controversial chemical, yet there had not previously been another viable replacement for processing gold ore. Cyanide continues to be a key reagent in the extraction of gold and now, following trials at a gold mine in operation in South Africa, cyanide destruction via ozonation has been given the green light to destroy or eliminate harmful cyanide species in gold processing.

Afrox embarked on a trial at the operating Transvaal Gold Mining Estate (TGME) gold mine, with the ozone produced using on-site gaseous oxygen and a portable generator. The results were encouraging, suggesting that using ozone in cyanide destruction could prove to be a viable route for gold plants wishing to reduce the cyanide levels in their tailings.

Afrox has also been busy broadening its product range this summer, announcing the launch of an exclusive world-class range of speciality gas products named HiQ® 60 to the African continent. Developed internationally by parent company The Linde Group, the ‘made for purpose’ HiQ® 60 calibration gases include pure gases and non-reactive gas mixtures – allowing for greater reliability in accuracy and longer-term usability of gas.

The news also comes hot on the heels of the summer 2010 commissioning of Afrox’s new speciality gases plant at its Gases Operations Centre (GOC) site in Germiston on Gauteng’s East Rand, in South Africa.

Robert Carlton-Shields, Speciality Gases Business Manager at Afrox, said in a statement, “Our state-of-the-art GOC facility has been developed to support these key areas of importance and the increased capacity should meet production demands to 2015.”

“The new production facility will also allow us to produce speciality gases with shorter lead times – in some cases in as little as five days.”