Innovation never stops. It’s the lifeblood of our customers’ industries, and it’s in our DNA. In 2020, as the world adapted to the Covid-19 crisis, Air Liquide picked up the pace to meet accelerated demand for digital technology, energy transition and scientific research. From the electronics industry to space exploration and quantum computing, the Group continued bringing its scientific expertise and entrepreneurial spirit to help its customers move forward faster and match the evolution of society.
While the pandemic locked people indoors, it also unleashed digital technology adoption, as work, study and play all shifted online. According to an annual McKinsey & Co survey(1), consumers and companies made a quantum leap to online channels, accelerating digital interactions by three to four years. Surveyed companies reported being seven years ahead in their switch to digital-enabled products – changes that are expected to stick.
In electronics, this created a surge in demand for hardware, especially computers, tablets and smart TVs, along with higher-capacity, more robust digital infrastructure. Rather than subside, demand remained robust throughout the year as the world adapted to the “new normal”. And despite the disruption to human lives and business processes, electronics manufacturers kept pursuing innovation. During this unprecedented time, Air Liquide continued working alongside global electronics leaders to design and supply the high-purity gases, advanced materials and specialized services needed to manufacture increasingly high-performance technology at an industrial scale. The ongoing challenge is to produce faster, more powerful and feature-rich devices while reducing the financial and environmental costs. This involves ever more complex processes and smaller components, particularly nanometric-scale microchips (as little as 5 nanometers), which require the utmost precision and quality.
To meet these new challenges, Air Liquide can rely on its network of Innovation Campuses and Product Development Labs. With these collaborative resources, the Group invents the kind of customized advanced materials that lead to breakthroughs in industry standards. This is the case, for example, for its enScribe™ range of etching gases, which facilitate the manufacturing of complex 3D memory structures while greatly reducing the environmental impact. The use of advanced materials enabled Air Liquide's key customers to reduce their CO2 emissions by 140,000 tons in 2020, and these savings should reach 240,000 tons by 2025.
In 2020, Air Liquide also pursued its partnership with the space industry, where the Group's unique technological expertise, especially in extreme cryogenics, has made it a major contributor to exploration programs. The Group is participating in Europe's Ariane launcher program and NASA's space programs, contributing to several space exploration missions (MeteoSat Third Generation, IASI-NG(2), ExoMars, LunaEnergy) and collaboration with the International Space Station (on the MELFI(4) refrigeration system).
In 2020, increased demand for digital devices and infrastructure drove sales of Air Liquide Advanced Materials
(1) How Covid-19 has pushed companies over the technology tipping point – and transformed business forever, McKinsey & Co, October 5, 2020.
(2) The Atmospheric Infrared Sounding Interferometer-New Generation is an instrument designed by the Centre National d'Études Spatiales and installed on board meteorological satellites. Its objective is
to provide observations of the atmosphere for weather forecasting.
(3) Disruptive technologies based on scientific breakthroughs of such a nature as to change the methods of design and production.
(4) MELFI is a cryo-refrigerator for use on board the International Space Station (ISS) for freezing and storing biological samples and other research specimens at temperatures as low as -95°C, before they are brought back to Earth.