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Essential small molecules

Enriching Air Liquide scientific territory

Molecules have been at the core of Air Liquide’s activities since its creation, as highlighted by the Group signature “Creative Oxygen”. Throughout our history, we have continuously developed a portfolio of technologies including new production processes and applications of these molecules along with the associated know-how, equipment and services. Today, enriching our knowledge on molecules will contribute to explore new horizons and serve Society.

Why "essential small molecules"?

Air Liquide gases (the most famous being oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide…) are referred in the scientific community as small molecules due to their small number of atoms and very simple structures. We classified these molecules in 5 families:

  • O&N-molecules: oxygen, nitrogen, ozone, nitrous oxide, nitrogen monoxide…
  • H-molecules: hydrogen, water
  • Organometallics: silane, germane…
  • C-molecules : carbon monoxide, acetylene, carbon dioxide, methanol, methane…
  • Noble gases: helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon

The importance of these molecules will increase due to the roles they play in global issues such as resource constraints, urbanization, evolution of consumption modes, and the rapid increase and ageing of the world population. These key challenges enhance the importance of these small molecules, which have already been essential for life development for millennia. Therefore, they are “Essential Small Molecules” in many regards for humankind and embody the Air Liquide scientific territory.

The importance of essential small molecules will increase due to the roles they play in global issues


“Science has been in Air Liquide's DNA since its founding in 1902. Our scientific culture enables us to collaborate with the world’s top innovation clusters and to attract leading scientists to our Essential Small Molecules field.”

Dr. Régis Réau, Air Liquide R&D Scientific Director

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"To grow, the company must enrich its technology portfolio by continuing to explore new horizons. Science is thus a powerful driver for fostering Air Liquide’s innovation".


Life, matter and energy

Essential Small Molecules exhibit an extremely wide variety of physical and chemical properties which make them essential to nature and human activities.


Oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, nitric oxide, water… These molecules have sustained life for millennia and are key components in virtually all natural, biological and biogeochemical cycles. Examples of daily usages include:


“There are numerous applications that remain to be explored for oxygen around its potential cellular and vascular benefits.”

Juan Fernando Ramirez, Vice-President Medical Research & Development, World Business Line Healthcare

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"In partnership with research centers, we are looking at how oxygen can be administered to help in the healing mechanism and other vascular pathologies. We also are exploring potential new therapeutic properties of this gas and the corresponding delivery device."



Hydrogen, carbon monoxide, organometallics… All of these molecules allow the creation and transformation of matter.

Oxygen, hydrogen, carbon monoxide and nitrogen are used as feedstock for chemical processes. The resulting products are needed to prepare everyday materials: textiles, plastics, rubber, fibers, fertilizers, paints, building materials to name a few. For their part, organometallics (silane, metal complexes…) are used in the production of semiconductors for electronic devices (advanced materials offer).


Oxygen, hydrogen, helium… These molecules play a key role in the production, storage and conversion of energy.

Small molecules are essential to life, matter and energy.
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Air Liquide's m-Lab community

Launched in October 2015, the m-Lab (molecule-Lab) is the Air Liquide scientific community dedicated to the Essential Small Molecules territory to innovate and create value for Society.

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Conceived as an open community-type organisation, m-Lab’s missions are to :

  • Structure and share the scientific knowledge while creating collective intelligence on our Essential Small Molecules
  • Host & lead “molecule” scientific communities (academics, technology institutes, start-ups, private R&D..), anchored within Air Liquide and open worldwide to its innovation ecosystems
  • Engage scientific talents to contribute to Society by using the properties of our Essential Small Molecules for the development of new technologies and services

The first “Air Liquide Essential Molecules Challenge”

Discover the winners of Air Liquide's first “Essential Small Molecules Challenge”

In 2016, the m-Lab organized the first Scientific Challenge to cooperate with the international scientific community (academics, technology institutes, start-ups, private R&D…) on Air Liquide's molecule territory, related to topics with a high societal impact. Following the review of 130 proposals coming from 25 countries, three laureates were selected to receive the Air Liquide Scientific Award and a 2-4 year cooperation ​with the Group ​for developing their proposal​.​ Themes were:

  • "Sunny H2 in a bottle", discovering an efficient way of producing hydrogen from water by using sun energy
  • "Pocketable Small Molecules", finding sponge materials for high density storage and safe supply of gases
  • "CO2, give back your O2!", producing oxygen and carbon monoxide from carbon dioxide in a sustainable way

Find out more about our Reasearch & Development


“This approach of openness towards the scientific community will contribute to advance the transformation of small molecules and will allow the development of new applications.”

Jean-Marie Lehn, Jury member of the Air Liquide Small Molecules Award, Nobel Prize in Chemistry

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"In the long term, it could lead to high standard scientific collaborations. The selection of the submitted projects looks very promissing."


Article published on November 02, 2017