Air Products has announced that its joint venture in India – INOX Air Products Ltd – is to build six new air separation units (ASUs) in the country under a $100m investment to serve the growing onsite and merchant liquid industrial gases market.

Is this the moment that we will look back upon and say that’s when India’s budding industrial gases industry really began to take off?

India has long been the darling of optimistic growth projections, held aloft as one of the emerging economies to watch out for in the years ahead.

A number of leading gas and equipment players have moved to position themselves for this keenly anticipated wave of growth, investing in gas production plants and equipment manufacturing sites.

And yet development has appeared sporadic, if not overlooked. To the onlooker, it has seemed something like a case of so long the Bridesmaid and never the Bride, as China, among others, has often stolen the limelight of emerging economies and gained greater traction in its development of industry.

Indeed, earlier this year in our focus on Asia/India, we noted how India was in something of a transition and no longer the world’s fastest-growing economy as it found itself in the midst of a self-imposed cash crisis.

In the International Monetary Fund’s January 2017 World Economic Outlook (WEO) report update, the country had fallen behind China in its estimated growth last year, by the tightest of margins (6.6% vs 6.7%). The IMF had also throttled back its forecasts for India in the current fiscal year by one percentage point.

But today’s announcement from Air Products of plans to build six new air separation units (ASUs) in India by 2018/19 comes at a time when the tide appears to be turning for the country.

”With Linde India confirming last year that it is to build an ASU in Andhra Pradesh, rumours of a further plant, and now the news that INOX Air Products is to build six ASUs in the country, the time is now for the Indian gases industry”

In just the last few days the IMF has released its April 2017 WEO, in which it essentially says that India need not fear losing its tag as the world’s fast-growing economy, even in the face of economic setbacks faced last year.

India’s growth forecast for 2017 has been trimmed by 0.4 percentage points to 7.2% it acknowledged, primarily because of the temporary negative consumption shock induced by cash shortages and payment disruptions from the recent currency exchange initiative. Medium-term growth prospects are favourable, however, with growth forecast to rise to about 8% over the medium term due to the implementation of key reforms, loosening of supply-side bottlenecks, and appropriate fiscal and monetary policies.

Further still, this compares with projected growth in China that slows to 6.2% in 2018 (2017: 6.6%) as the country’s medium-term outlook continues to be clouded by ‘increasing resource misallocation and growing vulnerabilities associated with the reliance on near-term policy easing and credit-financed investment’.

So is this India’s moment? Is this where it truly begins for the country’s gases industry?

The numbers in favour are compelling. The Indian industrial gas sector has an unusually large onsite business for a developing country, for example. In particular, there are a large number of steel clients that have been ‘weaned’ off captive owned and operated supply solutions in the last decade. Yet the captive market is still significant in India, with an estimated captive supply arena of almost 40% of the country’s gases business – potential that if converted to onsite supply could over time, represent as much as $800m in revenues.

gasworld Business Intelligence believes the onsite sector is likely to continue to do well in India and – as the market matures and develops further – deliveries of bulk liquid will, in time, start to noticeably supplant volumes of packaged gas too. Within the 2016-2020 timeframe, gasworld forecast models predict growth from 8.6% per annum (p.a.) in a low scenario to 11.2% p.a. in a high scenario, resulting in a market worth up to $2.2bn.

With Linde India confirming last year that it is to build an ASU in Andhra Pradesh, rumours of a further plant, lab and academy from Linde, and now the news that INOX Air Products is to build no less than six ASUs in the country in the next two years too, it looks as though the time is now for the Indian gases industry.