Publishing and events company for the industrial gases industry, gasworld, received a record crowd for their Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Industrial Gas Conference that took place in Dubai this December 2015, underlining the significance of the opportunities in the region to local and international companies alike.
More than 275 delegates from 25 countries assembled for the conference to explore the economic and investment climate in the region, the drivers for growth and the key opportunities ahead, with emphasis on the merchant markets. Delegates heard not only about the advantageous position that the region’s industrial gases industry affords, but also the challenges to be met if the market is to continue to realise its potential. The key challenges, it was underlined, lay largely in the industry’s own intent to invest and impact both knowledge and innovation.
From vision to reality
After an extremely well attended welcome reception sponsored by the Middle East Gases Association (MEGA) the night prior to the conference, and a first look at the 40 promotional booths on show, proceedings began on day one with the opening speeches of gasworld founder and CEO John Raquet and Dr. Abdulwahab Al-Sadoun, Secretary General of the Gulf Petrochemicals & Chemicals Association (GPCA).
Dr. Al-Sadoun officially opened the event, alluding to the event’s theme of Today’s Vision, Tomorrow’s Reality with a success story of his own and a message for the record crowd. “Inspired by the programme, I thought maybe the appropriate theme for my opening would be ‘turning a vision into a reality’. We have enjoyed a strong chemicals industry for many decades, but we have only recently been able to establish such an association (GPCA).”
Day one continued to set the scene with an array of assertions about the region’s attractive prospects in the face of a challenging wider climate, and a strong emphasis on safety courtesy of a dedicated session from MEGA. The first keynote presentation came courtesy of The Linde Group’s Executive Board Member Tom Blades, discussing the challenges and potential in the Middle East healthcare business – and the homecare market in particular. Blades highlighted the differences between healthcare systems in the West and East, and the ‘alarming issue’ that is the rising cost of healthcare. The discussion evolved to describe the role – and potential future prosperity – of the industry in meeting these critical healthcare challenges.
The stage was then set for Richard Boocock, President of Middle East, Turkey, India and Egypt at Air Products. Boocock affirmed the optimism for the region and its attractiveness amidst an otherwise challenging global environment. “Certainly what we see today is attractive industrial gases growth. Yes, the economy is challenging, but what we see in this region is a significant upward potential,” he said. “There are abundant hydrocarbon resources, strategic investment in downstream projects, and amenable laws and business practices.”
With two high-profile keynote speakers sharing their optimism for the region, the moment arrived for not one but two consultants to give their assessments firstly for the chemicals sector and secondly for the industrial gas climate. Dr. Andrew Spiers, Senior Vice-President at Nexant, explained how change is the only constant in the petrochemical industry and that even in the midst of uncertain times, sources of competitive advantage remain clear and robust in the region’s refining and chemicals sectors.
gasworld’s John Raquet rounded out the morning’s insights with a view of the $78bn industrial gas market (2014) from gasworld Business Intelligence. “In the MENA region, including Turkey, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Egypt, the market was valued at around $2.5bn in 2014, dominated by the Middle East (85%),” he said. “But there are still a large volume of gases that are produced and used by the end-users themselves, so if these volumes were converted to outsourced supply, the potential numbers would be significant.”
Focusing on the merchant market in particular, a market of great interest in the Middle East, Raquet explained that general manufacturing is the biggest end-user for the market – accounting for around 30% of demand – but echoed Blades’ sentiments that healthcare could be one of the key growth drivers in the years ahead.
Focus on safety
Following a fine dining and networking lunch provided by Global Gas Services, delegates reassembled in the afternoon for Session Two, exploring safety standards in the Middle East courtesy of a series of presentations from MEGA. An important topic for such a rapidly developing gases market, the gravitas of the challenges ahead were emphasised by the profile of the companies represented on the speaking panel: Air Liquide, Buzwair Gases, GPCA, and Gulf Cryo. As delegates turned their attentions to an evening event provided by Silver Sponsor Transafe Logistics (Pre-Dinner Drinks) and Platinum Sponsor Buzwair Gases (Conference Dinner), day one drew to a close.
Day two focused on merchant markets, as well as giving the platform for a number of insightful commercial sessions in the afternoon. The event’s theme of Today’s Vision – Tomorrow’s Reality continued to be discussed and debated through keynote presentations from Air Liquide’s Omar Germouni, Middle East Business Director, independent consultant Jan Vansant, and AGC Instruments Marcus Creaven.
Germouni discussed bringing innovation to developing economies in the industry. Vansant then switched the focus to CO2 and described the many merchant applications, from food and beverages to oil and gas. Amidst the plentiful discussion about growth drivers and opportunities throughout the event, Creaven took a moment to reflect on the need to address the sometimes ‘forgotten’ analytical requirements in the business and noted that the implementation of good quality control processes is a big growth driver in the Middle East.
Arguably the most anticipated presentation of the day came courtesy of Mack Valves’ Dr. Fatemeh Didehvar, as she discussed the Iranian industrial gas opportunity. The ongoing situation in Iran had been a pertinent point for delegates during the two-day conference, and Dr. Didehvar’s insights shed further light on the future potential in the country. “The monumental agreement signed in July 2015 between Iran and major global powers will see intensive inspections and restrictions on its nuclear programme. But it will also see Iran benefit from more than $100bn in assets currently frozen, and a large potential foreign market with consumer expenditure over $170bn.”
“Besides the promising vision, there are short-term and medium term obstacles which Iranian companies face on a daily basis, most focused on Swift codes, banking systems, and budget constraints of private companies. These short-term obstacles will be sorted out straight away in 12-18 months.” Medium term obstacles include the need to produce more gas, and the need to build infrastructure to connect to Europe, both of which are lacking, she said. But a new wave of industrial and economic growth is forecast immediately after the sanctions are lifted, Dr. Didehvar concluded, creating a multi-billion dollar business boom from local and foreign companies alike.
Following an appetising lunch provided by Dohmeyer, the day’s activity continued with a dedicated commercial session, putting the emphasis on the new technologies and applications shaping the market in the present and future. Presentations were provided by VRV, Herose, INOXCVA, IGPH Group, Cryostar and Hale Hamilton.
Industrial Gas Project House (IGPH) Managing Director Ian Davies made a particular statement during his presentation, revealing a series of technological breakthroughs for the venture that include 450 bar cylinder filling, 600 bar shock-tested valves for oxygen service, and 300 bar LNG pumping technology for LNG vessels and vehicles.
gasworld founder and CEO John Raquet then officially brought the curtain down on the conference as he concluded, “This is the largest conference we’ve held, the feedback has been extremely positive, and we are delighted to have been back here in Dubai with you all. We hope that you have made new contacts and go home richer in both relationships and business insight.”