“To cut steel you have to burn oxygen and acetylene together at 3000 degrees centigrade”, said Barry Burke, Managing Director of BOC Gases Papua New Guinea.
Oxygen and acetylene, like the rest of the 165 chemicals sold by BOC, are gases. They are manufactured at BOC’s main plant in Lae, stored in reuseable cylinders and distributed to users throughout PNG. BOC also stocks the welding machines with which the gases are used and even the safety boots and other protective clothing that a welder has to wear.
Their main business, though, is the gases themselves. With a brand new K1.5 million acetylene plant, BOC is one of PNG’s major manufacturers and a source of employment and training for local engineers.
“The new acetylene plant was installed by our own local engineers”, said Barry. “We import the raw materials, calcium carbide and acetone, and make the gas right here.”
Members of the general public not directly involved in activities like welding may be surprised to find how many gases are in everyday use in PNG – and how many of them are supplied by BOC.
“We stock LPG, which stands for liquefied petroleum gas, from Australia. That’s the gas that’s used for cooking. We also import medical oxygen and nitrous oxides for hospitals, sell helium for weather balloons and nitrogen for inflating the tyres of earth-moving equipment. We have lots of carbon dioxide which is the fizz in soft drinks and is also used in fire extinguishers, and we have just started stocking a new gas with a really nice smell which is made from tea-tree oil. Called ‘Bactigas’, it fights air-borne fungus and bacteria and can be injected into the air-conditioning units of hospitals and offices.”
‘Bactigas’ is only the most recent of the long list of mostly invisible, intangible but potent substances which are BOC’s stock-in-trade and which are increasingly in demand as PNG takes further steps towards industrial development.