Air Liquide was born of innovation and began with the encounter between two men: Georges Claude, inventor of an industrial process for the production of oxygen from liquid air, and Paul Delorme, a visionary entrepreneur.
Gas, by its very nature, is difficult to transport and thus local production is required. This was one of the reasons why Air Liquide set its sights internationally early on, building numerous production units abroad. Development was rapid in Europe (1906), Japan (1907), Canada (1911) and the United States (1916).
The critical role played by shareholders became evident in the first years of the Company’s development. Listed on the Paris Stock Exchange in 1913, the share celebrated its hundredth-year of listing in 2013. Air Liquide has endeavored to forge a strong and privileged relationship with its shareholders based on exceptional stock market performance, with an average annual increase in its share price over the 100 years to 2013 of +11.9%.
Storing gas in liquid form in cryogenic tanks allows vast quantities to be transported by road or rail within a radius of approximately 200-250 km from the production site.
By delivering gas to several customers through pipelines, Air Liquide adopted a network strategy for the first time, linking its gas production units to one another. The Group increased its production capacity to meet soaring demand from large industries: firstly, for oxygen in the steel industry, and secondly, for nitrogen in chemicals. The Large Industries business was launched with customers committing to long-term contracts of 15 years or more. The Group currently manages more than 9,400 km (≈ 5,800 miles) of pipelines worldwide, in particular in the US along the Gulf Coast of Mexico, from the north of France to the Benelux, in the Ruhr Valley in Germany and in several Asian countries including China and Singapore
Convinced of the industrial potential of cryogenics, Jean Delorme, Chairman & CEO of Air Liquide, decided to create a research center near Grenoble dedicated to these technologies. The first applications were rapidly integrated in the space industry. Air Liquide has been a partner of the space adventure for 65 years. The Group’s contribution has been in the production of the fluids essential for take off (oxygen, hydrogen, helium and nitrogen), the supply of associated services, in the design and production of tanks, launchers and cryogenic satellite equipment.
The Claude Delorme Research Center located in the Paris-Saclay plateau and now called the Paris Innovation Campus, was created in the greater Paris region. The center was created to enhance gas production technologies and their applications. It is evidence of the Group’s desire to better understand the industrial processes of its customers and develop new gas applications to better satisfy their requirements. The Center also develops partnerships with universities and industrial companies. Currently, the Group also has research centers in Europe, North America and Asia.
With the Sasol project in South Africa, for the production of synthetic fuel, Air Separation Units (ASUs) have scaled up, dramatically increasing in size. Following this technological breakthrough, Air Liquide became the leader in large ASUs, and remains so today. At the end of 2017, the world’s largest oxygen production unit was commissioned by the Group in South Africa for its customer Sasol.
In Japan, the Group began to supply ultra-high purity gases to the semi-conductor industry: this involves carrier gases, mainly nitrogen, used to transport the specialty gases and keep the chip production tools inert, and specialty gases that are used directly in the manufacturing of semi-conductors. In 1987, Air Liquide inaugurated the Tsukuba Research Center in Japan, which is dedicated to the electronics industry.
The Group acquired Big Three in the United States in 1986, a Large Industries business along the Gulf Coast.
In addition to oxygen and nitrogen, as part of its commitment to protecting the environment and promoting energy efficiency, Air Liquide extended its offering to hydrogen and steam. To ensure the success of this new offering, the Group used its business model, which is behind the success of its air gas business, and deployed from the beginning a basin strategy based on a pipeline network, providing customers with flexibility, distribution reliability and service quality at the best price.
Originally an oxygen supplier to hospitals, Air Liquide became a specialist in the healthcare sector. The Group launched its Home Healthcare business and set up a dedicated network of specialist teams. Medical gases were progressively classified as drugs and manufacturers were required to file market authorizations. The Group also ushered in the hygiene sector, a business that naturally complemented hospital services. More recently, Air Liquide launched research programs in therapeutic gases, used for resuscitation and pain relief.
The Group invested massively in China in the early 2000s; the country has been a major growth market for industrial gases and Air Liquide entered into numerous air gas contracts. The Group acquired part of Messer Griesheim activities in Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The Air Liquide growth drivers for the coming decades are solid and sustainable, based on changing lifestyles: industrial growth of developing economies, increasing energy needs and environmental challenges, healthcare and high technology. To capture this growth, the Group created a new organizational structure based on four World Business Lines. They combine the technical and operational expertise which are specific to each of the businesses of the Group – Large Industries, Industrial Merchant, Healthcare and Electronics – and centralize the specific market expertise. The Group remains geographically focused, but each zone or country benefits from the support and experience of the business lines to accelerate its development. Conscious of the strategic dimension of Engineering & Construction capabilities, the Group acquired Lurgi in 2007. This company provides Air Liquide with major proprietary technologies such as hydrogen and carbon monoxide production units, or processes relating to gasification or CO2 purification, adding to the Group’s historical competencies in cryogenics. Thanks to this acquisition, the Group now has a complete technological offering and greater engineering capacity.
Affected by a global economic crisis of unprecedented magnitude, the Group focused its efforts on the management of its cash, costs, and investments (capital expenditures). Having tested the solidity of its long-term contracts, Air Liquide confirmed its resilience and demonstrated the relevance of its business model. In a context of global recession, the Group showed itself to be an exception, posting a stable net profit while preserving the strength of its balance sheet.
The Group accelerated its presence in new territories, including Turkey and Mexico, and strengthened its presence in China. These developments contributed to the increase of the developing economies’ share of Gas & Services revenue from 16% in 2009 to 24% in 2018. A weaker growth environment in advanced economies, particularly in Western Europe, led to Air Liquide intensifying its acquisition efforts. At the end of 2012, two major home healthcare players joined the Group: LVL Médical in France and Gasmedi in Spain.
Innovation is central to Air Liquide’s strategy. In 2013, Air Liquide launched two initiatives to promote open innovation: i-Lab (innovation Lab) and ALIAD, the Group’s capital risk subsidiary, to make minority investments in innovative technology start-ups. In 2014, the Group decided on new investments with the modernization of the Research Center near Versailles, the creation of a center for the development and industrialization of gas cylinders for industry and healthcare, and the launch of a technical center of excellence for cryogenic production technologies. In 2015, Air Liquide inaugurated Cryocap™ in France, a unique industrial installation that enables the capture of CO2 released during hydrogen production via a cryogenic process. After being purified, the captured CO2 can be used to meet a variety of industrial needs for carbonic gas supply.
In addition, on a worldwide scale, Air Liquide actively contributes to the development of the hydrogen energy activity by supporting automotive manufacturers launching fuel cell electric vehicles on the market. Air Liquide contributes to the construction of hydrogen charging stations (United States, Japan, France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Korea), the majority of which are generally accessible to the public.
On May 23, 2016, Air Liquide completed the acquisition of the American company Airgas. This acquisition enabled the Group to combine two highly complementary businesses and be present on all market segments. At the end of 2018, the United States represented 34% of Gas & Services revenue.
The Group acquired a new dimension following the acquisition of Airgas and thus entered a new phase of its development. On July 6, 2016, Air Liquide published its new mid-term company program, NEOS, for the 2016-2020 period. Air Liquide’s strategy for profitable growth over the long-term is that of a customer-centric transformation. It is based on operational excellence and the quality of its investments, on open innovation and the network organization already implemented by the Group worldwide. Air Liquide’s ambition is to be a leader in its industry, deliver long-term performance and contribute to sustainability.
To step up the development of offerings in new markets, the Group created the Global Markets & Technologies business, responsible for the incubation of new activities in the field of energy transition andthe maritime sector, by leveraging technologies (Space, Aerospace, Cryogenics, Scientific exploration).
Following the disposal of its Aqua Lung (diving) and Air Liquide Welding (welding) subsidiaries, Air Liquide focused on its Gas & Services businesses and the implementation of its NEOS company program. The Gas & Services businesses now represent 96% of the Group’s revenue at the end of 2018.
To mark its transformation, the Group created a new logo, the fifth since the Company was founded 115 years ago. This new visual identity, which embodies the change within Air Liquide, is that of a leading Group, expert and innovative, that is close to its stakeholders and open to the world.
Air Liquide has already achieved the majority of the cost and growth synergies resulting from the integration of Airgas. The 300 million US dollar target will be reached at the beginning of 2019, i.e., more than a year before initially planned.
Air Liquide inaugurated its Paris Innovation Campus in the Paris-Saclay innovation Cluster, in the greater Paris region. This new Campus illustrates the Group’s “open innovation” approach, especially on energy transition and the environment, healthcare and digital transformation. It includes the Group’s largest, fully renovated, Research & Development Center. From 2019, the Innovation Campus will also host a deep-tech start-up accelerator
For many years now, Air Liquide has been committed to sustainable growth aimed, in particular, at limiting its CO2 emissions and those of its customers. On November 30, 2018, Air Liquide announced its Climate objectives, including the commitment to reduce its carbon intensity by 30% between 2015 and 2025, with a global approach that includes its assets, its customers, and ecosystems. The objectives are the most ambitious in the sector and are in line with the NEOS company program. In this respect, the Global Markets & Technologies activity is stepping up sales to energy transition-related markets, driven by the biomethane sector with the start-up of several production units in Europe and the United States, and by hydrogen energy with the commissioning of new hydrogen charging stations for mobility. Moreover, the Hydrogen Council, which was founded in 2017, brings together more than 50 global leaders in the energy, transport and industry sectors to promote hydrogen with a view to achieving climate change-related objectives, and has held a meeting in China for the first time