Helium Shortage Reaches Critical Level

The world’s supply of helium is quickly diminishing, and one local expert says that means changes to birthday celebrations. Wayne Barker, of Norco in Bend, says helium is, essentially, a non-renewable resource. It is a byproduct of natural radioactive decay that takes several thousands of years to produce. Barker says the main sources of helium are found in the United States, Qatar, and Azerbaijan, “The U.S. reserves are gone, and now what we’re left with is trying to deal with a global market in a couple of places that are, for whatever reasons, unstable.” And, he tells KBND News, with a limited supply comes a need to prioritize. Helium must be used for medical gasses and liquids, laboratory research and welding, which leaves little left for personal and commercial helium tanks, “Everybody is faced with the same allocations, so people are just going to have to be strategic in their use of it. Like any other supply, eventually when the price gets high enough, people will go out there and find ways to refine it out of the natural gas sources that are there today, but it’s just never going to be as cheap as it was; we’re never going to see those days again.” He adds, “You’re not going to see balloons flying over the cars at the car lot. You’re not going to see Johnny’s birthday party with 50 balloons. And if Johnny can find a balloon, that one balloon might cost $50.” This happened a few years ago, too, and helium had to be reserved for high-priority needs. But, this time, he says, is different, and likely longer-lasting, “It’s going to be expensive. You’re not going to see balloons flying over any parties. We’ll be saving it for chilling magnets for MRIs or the welding process, medical gasses, those are going to be our priorities.”

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Air Products and Sonatrach Announce Industrial Gases Agreements in Algeria

Joint Investments will see an increase in Helium Feedstock and Addition of Two New Air Separation Plants

Air Products, a leading global industrial gas company, and Sonatrach, the largest state-owned oil and gas company in Africa, have signed two gas production and delivery agreements. Conducted through both companies’ joint venture (JV), HELIOS, the deals have a combined value of US $100 million. Through the deal, Sonatrach will recover helium from two existing liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities (GL1Z and GL3Z), and that helium will be delivered to HELIOS’ existing liquid helium plant in Arzew. The HELIOS plant is an important part of Air Products’ total global helium source portfolio, and the new feedstock will increase the amount of liquid helium produced by the JV plant.
“The potential for helium production in Algeria is significant thanks to its large, established natural gas industry and LNG operations,” said Walter Nelson, vice president and general manager–Global Helium at Air Products. “Connecting the HELIOS plant to Sonatrach’s other LNG facilities in Arzew is a further illustration of how unlocking Algeria’s helium potential can further diversify the helium supply chain and improve the reliability of supply for customers in Africa and Europe.” Another important component of Air Products’ and Sonatrach’s agreement is that Air Products will design and build, and HELIOS will own and operate, two new air separation plants in Algeria. One will be located in the Hassi Messaoud District, with the second in Arzew. Once in operation, these plants will produce nitrogen, oxygen and argon, which will be supplied to the Algerian and Maghreb markets through Sonatrach’s subsidiary, COGIZ. “Underpinned by our strong relationship with Sonatrach and successful track record of execution, Air Products has built a solid platform in Algeria from which to grow,” noted Ahmed Hababou, vice president, Southern Europe and Maghreb, at Air Products. “We are very pleased to make our investments jointly with Sonatrach and build on the success of our partnership in HELIOS. These latest agreements show our continued commitment and willingness to invest in the Algerian industrial gas market, bringing greater competitiveness, security of supply and enhanced service to our customers.” These latest agreements are part of Sonatrach’s 2030 Vision for growth, which includes a multi-billion dollar investment program to expand Algeria’s energy sector and infrastructure. Mr. Abdelmoumen Ould KADDOUR, President and CEO of Sonatrach, said, “Delivering these industrial gas production projects with our renowned international partner, Air Products, is a key part of Sonatrach’s diversification strategy. It will allow us to better value our resources and provide us with secure and reliable industrial gases to meet our needs and those of our customers.” Air Products has built a solid foundation in Algeria since entering the market over 40 years ago. The company’s proprietary process technology and main cryogenic heat exchangers are in operation at Sonatrach’s LNG facilities in Skikda and Arzew, with both facilities making up a significant portion of Algeria’s LNG exports. Additionally, both Air Products’ and Sonatrach’s successful HELIOS joint venture has produced helium for the European market for more than 25 years.

About Air Products

Air Products is a world-leading industrial gases company in operation for over 75 years. The company provides industrial gases and related equipment to dozens of industries, including refining, chemical, metals, electronics, manufacturing, and food and beverage. Air Products is also the world’s leading supplier of liquefied natural gas process technology and equipment. The Company had fiscal 2018 sales of $8.9 billion from operations in 50 countries and has a current market capitalization of about $35 billion. Approximately 15,000 passionate, talented and committed employees from diverse backgrounds are driven by Air Products’ higher purpose to create innovative solutions that benefit the environment, enhance sustainability and address the challenges facing customers, communities, and the world. For more information, visit www.airproducts.com.

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Air Products And Sonatrach Sign Industrial Gases Agreements In Algeria

Air Products has signed two gas production and delivery agreements with the largest state-owned oil and gas company in Africa, Sonatrach.

Source: Carburos Metalicos

Conducted through both companies’ joint venture (JV) HELIOS, the deals have a combined value of $100m. Through the deal, Sonatrach will recover helium from two existing LNG facilities (GL1Z and GL3Z), and that helium will be delivered to HELIOS’ existing liquid helium plant in Arzew. The HELIOS plant is an important part of Air Products’ total global helium source portfolio and the new feedstock will increase the amount of liquid helium produced by the JV plant. “The potential for helium production in Algeria is significant thanks to its large, established natural gas industry and LNG operations,” said Walter Nelson, Vice-President and General Manager of Global Helium at Air Products. “Connecting the HELIOS plant to Sonatrach’s other LNG facilities in Arzew is a further illustration of how unlocking Algeria’s helium potential can further diversify the helium supply chain and improve the reliability of supply for customers in Africa and Europe.” Another important component of Air Products’ and Sonatrach’s agreement is that Air Products will design and build, and HELIOS will own and operate, two new air separation plants in Algeria. One will be located in the Hassi Messaoud District, with the second in Arzew. Once in operation, these plants will produce nitrogen, oxygen and argon, which will be supplied to the Algerian and Maghreb markets through Sonatrach’s subsidiary, COGIZ. “Underpinned by our strong relationship with Sonatrach and successful track record of execution, Air Products has built a solid platform in Algeria from which to grow,” noted Ahmed Hababou, Vice-President of Southern Europe and Maghreb at Air Products. “We are very pleased to make our investments jointly with Sonatrach and build on the success of our partnership in HELIOS. These latest agreements show our continued commitment and willingness to invest in the Algerian industrial gas market, bringing greater competitiveness, security of supply and enhanced service to our customers.” These latest agreements are part of Sonatrach’s 2030 Vision for growth, which includes a multi-billion-dollar investment programme to expand Algeria’s energy sector and infrastructure. Abdelmoumen Ould Kaddour, President and CEO of Sonatrach, said, “Delivering these industrial gas production projects with our renowned international partner, Air Products, is a key part of Sonatrach’s diversification strategy. It will allow us to better value our resources and provide us with secure and reliable industrial gases to meet our needs and those of our customers.”

Air Products in Algeria

Air Products has built a solid foundation in Algeria since entering the market over 40 years ago. The company’s proprietary process technology and main cryogenic heat exchangers are in operation at Sonatrach’s LNG facilities in Skikda and Arzew, with both facilities making up a significant portion of Algeria’s LNG exports. Additionally, both Air Products’ and Sonatrach’s successful HELIOS joint venture has produced helium for the European market for more than 25 years.

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Gazprom Suspends Helium Exports From Orenburg

According to industry sources, Gazprom has declared a supply shortfall and suspended all deliveries of bulk liquid helium for export from Russia, effective immediately, due to an order issued by Russia’s anti-trust committee. Apparently, this action has been taken in response to the current worldwide shortage of helium, which has destabilised domestic Russian helium markets. The Orenburg liquefier accounts for approximately 100 MMscf of helium production per year, or around 1.5% of total worldwide supply. It is capable of producing helium to 99.9999% purification.

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The Race Of The Manufacturers Of MRI To Reduce Their Dependence On Helium

Away from the hustle and bustle of the race to electric vehicles, it is a battle of similar, but far more unobtrusive among the manufacturers of MRI: reducing the fossil energy consumption of these large medical imaging devices, fond of liquid helium.

Magnetic resonance imaging is now a tool of medical diagnosis very common: more than 100 million MRI scans are performed each year in the world and this market is expected to reach € 6 billion in 2021, compared with 4.7 billion euros in 2016, according to research firm MarketsandMarkets. Born in the late 1970s, the technology uses the properties of atoms of hydrogen present in the water of our body by making it respond to a powerful magnetic field to then convert their signals into 2D or 3D images. This magnetic field is produced by magnets made of “superconductors” (no electrical resistance) through copper coils immersed in helium, a gas with a liquid a temperature close to absolute zero, around -269 degrees Celsius. So it is to be a few hundred, or even up to 2,000 litres of liquid helium to operate a MRI, depending on the model. Some require to be recharged from time to time, a portion of the helium that might evaporate back to the gaseous state. Gold helium “is expensive because it is becoming scarce”, explains to the AFP Serge Ripart, director imaging Siemens Healthineers, the society of medical technology in the German giant Siemens, the global market leader MRI.

– Philips pulls out the first –

Because the helium cannot be produced artificially at the present time. It mostly comes from natural gas deposits, from where it is extracted by the cryogenic process. Its prices oscillate “from 20 to 40 euros per liter, according to the country”, adds Mr Ripart.
“This could increase by 50% to 100% in the coming months,” says Marceau Eck, marketing manager, MRI at Philips France, pointing to “problems of quantities” in the United States and “geopolitical uncertainty” hanging over other major producers, such as Qatar.
An alignment of planets appropriate to the Dutch Philips, which launches this month the MRI consume less helium in the world: his “Ingenia Ambition X” is able to operate with only 7 litres of liquid helium, and without the need of recharging, ” says Dr. Eck. Principle: rather than submerge fully in the liquid helium, the superconducting coils, they are coated in “microtubules”, in order to cool with an amount of helium is optimized, ” he explains. “We wanted this machine to become the standard horizon 2019-2020 (…). It comes up with something that is really new compared to the competition. Some announcing for many years that they will have it, but they are still in their tests,” he adds. Thus, as early as 2016, the u.s. GE Healthcare unveiled “Freelium”, a MRI also requiring very little helium (20 litres at the time). But it has not been marketed: a deliberate choice, according to the group.

– “A progress, not a revolution” –

“It was found that there was a certain amount of interest [for this technology], but also for the technology that conventional”, the market of MRI is “quite a traditionalist”, recently explained to AFP Stéphane Maquaire, director of the activity MRI in Europe from GE Healthcare. “It’s a bit like the electric car: the +switch+ (failover, editor’s NOTE) is not going to be immediate,” according to him. Such an innovation represents an additional cost for the purchase, which delays the gains of savings generated by a reduced consumption of helium. However, the emerging markets, where sales of MRI are the most dynamic, “will more likely go on to the MRI input of the range, with acquisition costs lower”, argued Mr Maquaire. Siemens Healthineers also “know how” of the MRI works with a few tens of liters of helium, but also tests in-house for the time being. “This is not a development priority” for the group, which prefers to focus on innovations with a clinical impact, as the reduction of the acquisition time of the MRI, according to Mr Ripart. “It is progress, but not a revolution,” he adds, recalling that many MRI mechanisms have more need of charging, thanks to systems to liquefy helium in a closed circuit. “The real break-up would be to obtain the superconductivity of the magnets to ambient temperature, working on new materials, and the judge said it. “Research teams are working everywhere in the world, but I don’t know if there will come a day”.

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