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Interview

Kazuyuki Sakata, Managing Director, Air Liquide in Singapore (SOXAL)

27.06.2014 / Energyboardroom

Kazuyuki Sakata, Managing Director of Air Liquide in Singaporedescribes SOXAL’s long-term and pioneering presence energizing Singapore‘s manufacturing industries, especially its historical presence on Jurong Island and its extensive pipeline network. As the largest and leading industrial gas company in Southeast Asia with a strong Singapore Regional HQ, SOXAL’s quality service offering allows energy players to focus on running their operations and promotes sustainable, long-term growth throughout the region. 

Singapore Oxygen Air Liquide (SOXAL) have been established in Singapore for over a hundred years. Can you give us a more recent overview of the company’s evolution and presence in the country?

Almost a decade after the founding of French-based Air Liquide in 1902, the company established its Singaporean presence through SOXAL in 1911 as part of its international expansion. Throughout the century, SOXAL grew its business along with the development of Singapore’s thriving industry. Initially, this had begun with the rise of the city-states’ marine industry, which laid the foundations for the future development of the refining and chemical industries in the 1960s and 1970s. Following that wave of development, Singapore’s electronics industry started taking center stage in the 1980s and 1990s.

Hence, as Singapore’s manufacturing base continued to grow over the past century, SOXAL too relentlessly expanded its local presence, helping to fuel Singapore’s growth. Most recently, the past two decades have seen the reemergence of Singapore’s petrochemical industries. In response, SOXAL has invested significantly over the past five years in expanding its production capacity in Jurong Island Singapore’s wholly integrated energy and chemicals hub.

Today, we operate the largest network in Singapore of high purity gas production plants serving the manufacturing, processing and healthcare industries. In fact, SOXAL was amongst the first companies to set foot on Jurong Island and today’s infrastructure includes the largest hydrogen production plant in Southeast Asia, as well as 120 kilometer-long pipeline network.

As a wholly-owned subsidiary of Air Liquide, what is the strategic importance of Singapore to the organization’s global operations?

Asia as a whole represents more than a quarter of Air Liquide’s global activities. The Singaporean affiliate is the third largest and most important operational base within Asia, behind Japan and China.

Despite Singapore’s limited land area, its importance to SOXAL’s growth is explained by the high density of various industry clusters. Approximately a century in the making, few countries in the world pack the same punch in terms of industry concentration. With over a hundred years of presence in the island-state, SOXAL too has done its part and continuously invested in expanding its network to support the development of the local industry that we see today.

In terms of the industries you serve, what is the relative importance of the energy and petrochemicals sector to your operations?

The energy sector is central to our operations in Singapore. Some of our largest customers are in fact in the biodiesel field, who consume vast amounts of hydrogen from our network. In addition, we are the undisputed suppliers of oxygen and nitrogen to Jurong Island’s refineries and petrochemical plants through our integrated pipeline network. In one form or another, we touch almost each and every player in Jurong Island, which is at the heart of Singapore’s energy and chemicals industry and home to many dozens of leading global petroleum, petrochemicals and specialty chemicals companies.

How do you see the future of Singapore’s energy or manufacturing base in light of space constraints?

Since Air Liquide’s foundation in 1902, the company was driven to pioneer into new geographies. In part, this explains the dynamism and long term view of going as far as Singapore and continuously investing in the country’s future. In an illustration of SOXAL’s proactive commitment to Singapore, the company established in 1985 an air separation plant on Jurong Island at a time when the island was yet to be reclaimed from the sea.

We have continued to take the same long term view with our development in Singapore, adding 6 air separation units and a world-scale hydrogen plant over the last three decades. Recognising the space constraints that Singapore would face, we created a 160km pipeline network to connect these plants to our customers to meet the growing gas needs of a vibrant petrochemical and chemical sector, while making efficient use of the limited land.

How does SOXAL and Air Liquide seek to remain at the forefront of technology to face the challenges of tomorrow?

Air Liquide operates a number or R&D centers worldwide in Europe, the US and Japan. In Singapore, SOXAL has established an integral competency center that also acts as an important source of innovation. The center is comprised of a laboratory focused on specialty gases for the electronics industry, as well as an engineering center that caters to our own in-house needs and those of the industries we serve in Singapore and Asia.

Locally, our engineering competencies also keep us at the forefront the gas business. Our state-of-the-art equipment and facilities are managed by a very competent and experienced workforce. On the back end, they are also supported by our patented Supervisory, Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) network that allows us to optimize our assets to maximize our efficiency while meeting the needs of our customers.

In a highly mature and well developed industry, how does Air Liquide and SOXAL stand out?

When any of our customers seek out gas solutions from us, they expect reliability and energy efficiency. These are the two fundamental elements to success in our industry. Improved efficiency is achieved through advancing technology and precision engineering. With an excellent team of engineers developing our own processes and being the owners of patented technologies on the production side, SOXAL has always been pushing the envelope in terms quality and production efficiency. We have been able to continuously enhance the purity of our products, instilling a degree of confidence in our clients whose own processes rely heavily on the quality and consistency of inputs.

Simultaneously, Air Liquide is also investing in the development of new molecules for application in both industry and healthcare, as well as exploring new applications for existing molecules.

What recent projects or breakthroughs are you particularly proud of at Air Liquide as it adapts to new environments?

Maintaining a clean environment and reducing carbon emissions is an important topic on everyone’s agenda. This is especially true for us given our international presence and involvement in industry. Providing industrial gases in a cost effective yet sustainable manner is of paramount importance to us. To remain competitive, we need to enact processes and solutions that are based on feedstock that offer the best balance between today’s processes and tomorrow requirements.

The company is engaged in CO2 capture projects at of our hydrogen plants that can produce carbon-neutral hydrogen by optimizing the processes when the requirements are put into place.

We have continued to push the envelope when it comes to new environments. In the electronics industry, the push for efficiency have led us to introduce the Best Efficiency Plants that can enhance efficiency for the customer by more than 30%.

The petrochemical industry is filled with representations of how we have continued to evolve to adapt to the changing environment. The creation of the massive interconnected pipeline network of plants was a response to the expected growth and development of Jurong Island, and today we are proud of our steady evolution to become the gas leader in Singapore.

How important are the local regulatory and commercial bodies in developing SOXAL’s business?

With our long history in Singapore, we certainly recognize the critical role these agencies have played in the development of Singapore and their strong support of industry to give Singapore the strong manufacturing edge that it holds today.

The contacts and discussions we have with bodies such as the EDB have always played a critical part in our development. They have been extremely supportive of industry and responsive to the balances and concerns of our industry. The support they have promoted and implemented regarding the trends towards energy efficiency, for instance, is recognized as an important step towards the continued development of our customers and the industry as a whole.

“Creative Oxygen” is a new corporate signature launched by Air Liquide. Can you tell us more about that?

Air Liquide is a globally recognized brand in an increasingly changing landscape. The new corporate signature seeks to communicate how Air Liquide has successfully grown through creative technological leadership and innovation for over a century. Creative Oxygen sets the stage for what our future looks like over the next decades and the role we will play in the environment and industries we serve.

What are your ambitions for SOXAL in Asia?

Air Liquide has recently reorganized its group of companies into regional hubs with a view to accelerate flexibility and decision making by continent. Singapore is most certainly a vital contributor to the group’s regional performance and prospects and we aim to maintain our growth path and support the local industry in overcoming its evolving challenges in Jurong Island and the mainland, as well as in neighboring geographies. In achieving these goals, we aim to also invest in the development of our people and capabilities and enabling future generations to address the challenges of tomorrow. Over the long term, we want to mirror the successes we enjoyed over the past century well in to the next and partner our customers on their growth path.

To read more articles and interviews on Singapore, and to download the latest free report on the country, click here.

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