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The global noble gases market size was USD 40.34 billion in 2020. The global impact of COVID-19 has been unprecedented and staggering, with these products witnessing a negative demand shock across all regions amid the pandemic. Based on our analysis, the global market exhibited a huge decline of 5.56% in 2020. The market is projected to grow from USD 41.11 billion in 2021 to USD 53.71 billion in 2028 at a CAGR of 3.89% during the 2021-2028 period. The sudden decline in CAGR is attributable to this market’s demand and growth, returning to pre-pandemic levels once the pandemic is over.
Noble gases are a group of gases belonging to the 18th group of the periodic table. The name noble or inert gas is derived from the point that these gases are very slow in reaction and very rare. The common feature in all these gases is that their energy orbitals are filled, resulting in them undergoing reactions under extreme conditions. One application that is common to all gases is their usage in fluorescent tubes for illumined advertising. However, in recent years, the high cost of gases and energy required to light these fluorescent tubes have deterred the customers from adopting them, making the gas producers seek alternative applications. For instance, according to a research paper by Wade et al., around 15-30% of the global demand for helium is now used in the cooling of magnetic resonance imaging machines (MRIs). More than 37,000 MRI machines are currently operational across the globe, thus presenting attractive demand for helium in the global marketplace.
Gas Manufacturers shift Focus towards Oxygen Separation in the Light of Pandemic
Noble gases are primarily produced by a pressurized separation process wherein different gases present in the air are separated based on their physical properties, such as boiling point and critical pressure. These gas separation units separate and produce various gases, including nitrogen, oxygen, inert gases, and even carbon dioxide. However, the separation units are tuned to separate the required gas from the mixture. As the oxygen demand gained tremendous spike during the pandemic, many gas producers fine-tuned their air separation divisions to produce oxygen instead of rare, inert gases. For instance, The Colombian Chamber of Industrial and Medical gases issued an alert on 26th April 2021, mentioning the pressure on gas companies to meet oxygen demand. As a result, total production in the country has crossed 105% of the installed capacity.
On the other hand, the total consumption has risen by 74%, from 330 to 575 tons per day between February 2020 to April 2021. Owing to this shift, the impact on the market was substantial. Moreover, many key end-use industries, including electronics, aeronautics, lighting, and the healthcare industry, faced restrictions in their manufacturing process due to lockdowns, which further affected the noble gases market growth potential.
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Increasing Research to Forge Compounds for Unique Applications
As noble gases are reluctant to share electrons from their filled outer electron shells, they are considered mainly unreactive. Also, the formation of these gas compounds requires extreme conditions such as highly reactive reagents, low temperatures, and high pressure. However, these compounds are either too fleeting or unstable for practical applications. But, scientists across the globe have taken up the challenge of coaxing reactivity from these elements. For instance, researchers at McMaster University have been studying the reactivity of xenon and krypton for many years. As a result, they have successfully formed stable compounds such as XeF2, which can etch silicon, and KrF2, a potent oxidizing agent. More recently, in 2018, the researchers were able to develop complexes of XeO3, which is stabilized by the presence of 15-crown-5, with the crown ether settling atop the xenon atom like a royal tiara.
Expanding Steel Industry to Drive the Market Growth
With the flourish being observed in the construction and automobile production activities post Covid-19, the demand for steel and steel products is projected to expand considerably in the next few years. According to the World Steel Association, crude steel production across the globe increased from 1,814 Mn tonnes in 2018 to 1,878 Mn tonnes in 2020, increasing at 1.75% on a Y-o-Y basis. Argon is used in numerous steel production steps. It is blasted under high pressure to homogenize the mixture of liquid steel and to diffuse undesirable gases such as N2, H2, and CO from the mix. On a similar note, argon is also used in huge quantities as a protective gas in welding and vacuum induction applications. Many materials added to steel production activity, such as magnesium, chromium, titanium, and molybdenum, can’t tolerate the presence of oxygen and nitrogen as they easily form oxides or nitrides. Argon, therefore, protects the melted metals against degradation.
On the other hand, in industrial practice, low-pressure carburizing in a vacuum furnace with consequent high-pressure gas quenching has become common for producing case-hardened steels. To cool the carburized components from 940-980 C to room temperature, gas mixtures with high thermal conductivity such as helium + nitrogen or argon are used. Therefore, as these inert gases play such vital roles in steel production, an increase in steel production activities drives the market's growth.
Expansion in Smart Electronics to Aid Market Growth
Noble gases play a vital role in the manufacturing of semiconductors. For example, helium is used to supercool strong, superconducting magnets used for drawing silicon monocrystals from hot, high purity silicon. It also serves as a carrier gas for chemicals used in semiconductor manufacturing owing to its non-reactivity. Similarly, argon and krypton are also considered to be important for the semiconductor industry. During the sputter deposition process, a plasma of argon and krypton is used to support the reaction. Argon plasma also serves in activating the etching gases. Liquid argon is also utilized for cleaning the tine, fragile computer chips.
With the increasing demand for smart electronics, the market for semiconductors and computer chips has gained immense traction during recent years. This factor is pushing the need for these gases in the semiconductor industry.
Fluctuation in Production Costs Deter Market Growth
A critical factor that restrains the market's growth is the fluctuating costs of these gases in the global marketplace. Except for helium, the prices of all the inert gases are individually negotiated between the consumer and producers. The regional competition, the volume required, contract duration, energy costs, air separation units operating duration, and transportation distance are the factors influencing the costs of the product. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management auction pricing of helium fluctuated between USD 4.29/m3 in July 2017, USD 10.09/m3 in August 2018, and USD 6.31/m3 in September 2018. Similarly, argon prices varied between USD 8.80 to USD 19.10/m3 in FY 2017-2018. Similar trends are observed in the costs of other gases, which further affects the growth prospects of the global market.
Argon to Hold Dominant Share in the Global Market Throughout the Forecast Period
Based on type, this market is categorized into helium, neon, argon, krypton, and xenon. Out of these types, argon gas held the dominant share in the global market, primarily due to its large-scale application as a protective gas in the metal manufacturing process. Argon protects rare metals from the formation of oxides and nitrides by preventing the ingress of air. In aluminum production, argon mixed with N2, Cl2, and CO promotes degassing and removes the hydrogen and solid impurities from the molten aluminum.
On the other hand, neon gas is projected to gain considerable noble gases market share, owing to it being primarily utilized to produce excimer lasers. These laser applications are used in photolithography, a primary method for manufacturing integrated circuits and annealing polysilicon wafers for semiconductor and flat-screen applications.
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Lighting Segments Losing Market Share owing to Development of Sustainable Lighting Solutions
The global market is segmented according to the application of every type as follows:
Helium is categorized into MRI & medical applications, electronics, fiber optics, carrier & lifting gas, cryogenics, and others. At the same time, neon is divided into the laser, electronics, lighting, and others. Argon is segmented into protective gas, steel production, electronics & semiconductors, lighting, and others. On the other hand, krypton is divided into lighting, window insulation, laser, and other applications. Xenon lastly is categorized into imaging & lighting, satellites, electronics & semiconductors, medical, and others.
The key application area wherein the majority of these gases is gaining traction is in semiconductor manufacturing. These gases play roles in the etching, cleaning, and manufacturing of silicon chips. In addition, increasing demand for microcontrollers and ICs have propelled these chips' demand.
On the other hand, the original application of these gases as the lighting element in fluorescent tubes has been experiencing a steady decline, with multiple, highly sustainable lighting alternatives being introduced in the market. These alternatives are cheaper than gas bulbs and utilize very little energy, thus resulting in the lighting segments having negative growth during the study period.
Asia Pacific Noble Gases Market Size, 2020 (USD Billion)
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The market size in the Asia Pacific stood at USD 15.09 billion in 2020. Our research findings depict the region as the largest shareholder in this market throughout the forecast period. China, India, and Japan are the three largest steel-producing countries globally, which results in the demand for inert gases gaining traction in the region. Furthermore, China, Japan, and Taiwan lead in the production of electronics and semiconductor chips, which further presents an attractive opportunity for the gas producers to grab.
On the flip side, the market in North America is driven by the large-scale utilization of noble gases in fluorescent lighting applications. Many signboards and nameplates in the region still utilize gas-based fluorescent tubes for lighting, especially in the gambling cities such as Las Vegas. These tubes form attractive lighting patterns. Also, the commercial entities present in the country, such as SpaceX, Planet Labs, Inc., Spire Global, and Iridium Communications, have the maximum number of satellites orbiting the earth, with more launches scheduled in the next few years. These launches are expected to create the highest demand for gases such as krypton and xenon during the forecast period.
Europe is expected to be a key region wherein further research on the usage of noble gases is being carried out. For instance, the superfluidity of helium at temperatures below -271 C makes it suitable as a coolant for particle accelerators such as S-DALINAC electron linear accelerator in Darmstadt, Germany, German electron synchrotron DESY in Hamburg, and the LHC Large Hadron Storage Ring at the European Nuclear Research Centre CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. Moreover, helium is primarily employed in cooling the MRI and NMR instruments present in the region. With increasing instances of the presence of cancer due to multiple reasons such as pollution and unhealthy living, the utilization of these machineries is projected to expand, thus driving the demand for helium in the region
Steel manufacturing has gained immense traction in the past few years in South American countries due to the presence of high purity ores mined in the region. Also, these countries utilize krypton on a large scale for quality insulation of window panes used in the infrastructural development done in the region, which further improves the share of the region in the global market.
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The Middle East and Africa market is driven by the large utilization of these gases in protective and carrier gas applications. Furthermore, many unstable chemicals produced in the region are required to be stored under controlled environments. This requirement is fulfilled by the usage of helium and argon in cryogenic applications.
Key Market Players Focus On Acquisitions and Capacity Expansion to Strengthen Market Position
As the production of individual gas components from air requires large air separation units and heavy technical knowledge along with large, specialized state-of-the-art storage units, the market is largely consolidated, with the top ten companies holding around 70% of the market share. Air Liquide is one of the largest companies operating in the market. It supplies oxygen, argon, helium, and other specialty gases via multiple supply modes. It currently operates in 78+ countries and has a revenue of more than USD 22 billion. In addition, the company strengthened its proficiency in extreme cryogenics by acquiring a majority stake in Cryoconcept in September 2020.
Another key company operating in the market is Air Products, Inc. The company provides essential industrial & rare gases, related equipment, and application services to customers worldwide. It placed its sixth air separation unit onstream in Arizona, U.S., in March 2021.
An Infographic Representation of Noble Gas Market
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A growing trend is observed in the market for various applications such as semiconductors, satellites, and medical fields. The report provides qualitative and quantitative noble gases industry insights and a detailed analysis of market size & growth rates for all possible market segments. Along with this, the report provides an elaborative analysis of the market dynamics and competitive landscape. Various key insights presented in the report are Porters’ Five Forces, recent industry developments in the market, the regulatory scenario in crucial countries, macro & microeconomic factors, SWOT analysis, key industry trends, competitive landscape, and company profiles.
Volume (Million Cubic Meters) and Value (USD Billion)
By Type, By Application, and By Geography
Fortune Business Insights says that the market size stood at USD 40.34 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach USD 53.71 billion by 2028.
Growing at a CAGR of 3.89%, the market will exhibit considerable growth in the forecast period.
Argon is expected to be the leading type during the forecast period.
Increasing demand for steel to drive the growth of the market
Asia Pacific currently holds the major share of the market.
Air Products, Air Liquide, and Linde are the key players in the market. They have adopted strategies such as acquisition and capacity expansion for their growth in the market.
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