Helium Shortage Forces Harvard Physics Labs to Shut Down Equipment, Suspend Projects

A helium dewar sits unused in the basement of the Laboratory for Integrated Science and Engineering building.

Harvard is running out of helium — and it is no laughing matter.

A global helium shortage is affecting all sorts of consumers, ranging from the National Weather Service, to party-supply stores, to physicists at universities around the world. Harvard’s own supply of helium is now reduced to only 50 percent of its usual amount, according to Dean of Science Christopher W. Stubbs. “That has forced our experimental groups to greatly curtail the experiments that rely on that as a cryogenic liquid,” Stubbs said. “It impacts both elements of Harvard’s mission, both the research teaching and training element, as well as the research element.” The current helium shortage is the fourth to occur since 2006 and is being caused by shutdowns at several major helium producers. The shortage has been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, as Russia is one of the world’s top suppliers of helium.
Harvard labs impacted by the shortage have been forced to shut down equipment that uses liquid helium and suspend entire research projects. Without the ability to continue their experiments, some Ph.D. candidates could even have their graduation delayed. “My heart goes out to the people whose careers might be adversely impacted,” Stubbs said. “There are other instances where people’s work in the field is impacted by natural disasters, by international events, and the like,” Stubbs added. “Some of those things are just unpredictable and unavoidable.”
As a result of the recurring shortages, Harvard is looking to reduce its dependency on helium over time. “We are actively in the process of crafting a plan to wean ourselves from liquid helium in the long run,” Stubbs said. But according to Andrew T. Pierce, who finished his Ph.D. in physics at Harvard this year, liquid helium is still “the lifeblood of low-temperature physics.” While new systems that produce very low temperatures without needing a constant supply of liquid helium have been developed, those systems are not suitable for all experiments.
“In particular, they tend to produce rather severe vibrations,” Pierce said. “And so very sensitive applications — like microscopy — that require very low vibration, are so far still very difficult to do with these cryogen-free systems.” “The helium shortage is a blow, really, to lots of low-temperature physics groups that are doing these kinds of more sensitive experiments,” he added. Charlotte G. L. Bøttcher, who works in Physics Professor Amir Yacoby’s lab, said the helium shortage forced some graduate students to chart a completely different course for their Ph.D. “from one day to the other.” Bøttcher called herself “lucky” because she recently finished her Ph.D. and has not been affected too severely by the helium shortage, but said it was “hard” to watch some of her colleagues whose experiments were “producing really nice results” face consequences from not having enough helium. “Over the last year or so, they produced the dominant amount of papers and results from the lab,” Bøttcher said. “And [now] we just couldn’t run that system anymore.” Zhuozhen Cai, a first-year graduate student in the Yacoby Lab, was one of the Ph.D. candidates whose plans were severely disrupted by the reduced supply of helium. Cai said it was “pretty depressing” when she realized the helium shortage would prevent her from continuing the project she had spent the previous year training to work on, adding that her now suspended project influenced her decision to join the Yacoby Lab in the first place. “My future right now is not clear anymore,” Cai said. Cai added she is troubled the most by the uncertainty surrounding whether more helium will be available soon, allowing her original project to resume, or whether the shortage will drag on, forcing her to completely abandon her work. “What’s the possibility that the helium is going to come back in like a couple of months?” Cai asked. “Or what’s the possibility that we’re just going to give up this setup forever?” “I think that is the most scary part,” she said. Pierce, who helped train Cai before the shortage, said they were using “a really old system” that relied on liquid helium because it was “very vibration sensitive.” “Now with the liquid helium being available in reduced supply, we’re not able to run that system for the time being,” he said. “We’re not the only ones who are kind of in that boat.” Pierce said Harvard researchers are lucky to have even a reduced supply of helium. “I have heard that there are some groups and universities that currently cannot get any liquid helium at all,” he said. “As always, we’re really the beneficiaries of Harvard and the vast resources that are available to Harvard.” In fact, Harvard is more shielded from the helium shortage than other universities. Stubbs explained that Harvard has a system that is able to recycle and recirculate some of the helium used at its labs. “Unlike many other campuses, we actually have a liquid helium recovery system that actually recovers the boil off, returns it to a facility with a compressor, and reliquefies it,” Stubbs said.
Even so, Pierce said the current shortage is the “worst one” of his career. “It’s not the first helium shortage that’s occurred since I’ve been here,” he added, “but it’s certainly the most severe.”

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Imperial Helium Expects Its First Sales in 2022

Imperial Helium’s second, future-producing helium well was spud on Dec. 6, 2021, amidst constrained global helium supply. The outlook is good for 2022.

On Dec. 8, 2021, Imperial Helium Corp. (IHC:TSX.V – IMPHF:OTCQB) confirmed that drilling has begun on IHC’s second future producing helium well on the Steveville Structure, IHC-Steveville-3, located at 12-12-020-12W4.Imperial Helium is focused on the exploration and development of North American helium assets, prioritizing the commercialization of its Steveville, Alberta, helium discovery.
“Helium is an important but finite resource that must be extracted from the ground,” reports Forbes. “Like gold, new large helium deposits are becoming fewer and farther between, even though we’ve only known about the element since 1868, a little over 150 years ago,” continued Forbes. “As a result, supply is getting tight. Helium is notoriously difficult and expensive to store, for the very good reason that it escapes every known container over time.” Streetwise Reports recently conducted an interview with David Johnson, CEO of Imperial Helium, to learn more about the elusive element.
“Helium has some unique properties,” confirmed Johnson. “And that’s why there is such a large commercial demand. It doesn’t react with anything. Silicon chips are manufactured using helium to create a pure environment. Fiber optic cables also require a pure environment.” “Helium also has the ability to become what’s known as a superfluid or a superconductor,” added Johnson. “A superconductor is essentially frictionless. It gives us an opportunity to create a pure inert frinctionless environment, which is highly valued from a research perspective.” With increasing helium supply shortfalls around the world, IHC is targeting to become a supplier of helium to critical industries including healthcare, electronics, and semiconductors as well as aerospace.
Supported by strategic alliances in the helium and capital markets ecosystem, IHC intends to leverage its proprietary well database to support long-term growth.


Drilling of IHC-Steveville-3 Began Dec. 6, 2021

Following receipt of the well license for the company’s second future producing helium well, IHC-Steveville-3 (12-12-020-12W4) was spud on Dec. 6, 2021. To date, IHC has drilled two wells, IHC-Steveville-1 and IHC-Steveville-2, which have further defined the geological structure and validated the superior reservoir quality that was first encountered by the Steveville Discovery Blow-Out well in 1940. With an improved understanding of the Steveville structure provided by previously drilled well data, log analysis of existing wells, and seismic interpretation of area geology, IHC selected the location for IHC-Steveville-3. The well is being drilled on a second structural high point, similar and connected to the original Steveville Discovery Blow-Out.

IHC plans to drill IHC-Steveville-3 to a total depth of approximately 1,680 meters over an estimated 20 to 22 days. The IHC-Steveville-3 well will twin the existing 16-11-020-12W4 well, originally drilled in 1974. The formation characteristics of the identified production interval in the 16-11 well strongly parallel those found in the IHC-Steveville-2 well, enhancing the probability for success. Subsequent to drilling, logging, and casing of IHC-Steveville-3, IHC anticipates a minimum of two production tests, in multiple zones, over an eight- to 10-week period. The IHC-Steveville-2 well will be IHC’s first producing well once brought on-stream, which is expected by the end of 2022. Independent production test analysis indicates that IHC-Steveville-2 is capable of producing 5-8MMcf/d, at sustained rates, for more than three years. Based on this analysis, after three or more years, the well will exhibit normal natural decline rates of approximately 15% annually over a 15-plus-year field life. IHC is also in the process of securing an off-take agreement, representing another critical milestone on IHC’s path to producing commercial volumes of helium before the end of 2022.

On Oct. 12, 2021, IHC signed an agreement with ON2 Solutions for the construction and delivery of a prototype plant for producing 99.999% pure (grade-A) helium.
The gas mixtures associated with helium are unique to each resource accumulation. The prototype plant has been designed to accept a broad range of gas compositions and produce pure helium. “The helium market is growing internationally,” reports Johnson, “The U.S. market has lost about 2.1 billion cubic feet of supply. The global demand is around 6 billion cubic feet a year.” “About a third of the supply has been removed from the market,” continued Johnson. “That’s significant. It partly explains the price jump. From a market perspective, helium behaves like liquid natural gas because there’s no easy way to store it and transport it. Helium becomes a liquid at minus 272 degrees centigrade; that’s only 1.15 degrees above absolute zero. It’s very hard to keep the helium liquid. It’s transported in ISO containers that hold about a million cubic feet. It will keep the helium liquid for about 40 days — then it begins to leak. Helium was generated in the crust of the earth, through radioactive decay. Uranium throws out something called an alpha particle, which has two neutrons and two protons. And it grabs the first two electrons it comes into contact with, becomes helium and stays inert forever, and it begins to migrate upward. As it migrates, it finds itself traveling along with hydrocarbons. In order for any gas to be trapped, you need to have a very good seal. And a good seal with a shale needs to very pure, which means it can’t have a lot of silt associated with it. We are very fortunate to have this characteristic in Alberta,” stated Johnson. We are going to finish drilling the well in January of 2022,” said Johnson. “Then we’ll do a production test, which will take about 30 days and which we anticipate will demonstrate comparable results to those previously released at Steveville-2. Assuming both Steveville-2 and Steveville-3 perform as expected, by the end of 2022, we would anticipate being positioned with a production facility that has a throughput capacity of 10 million cubic feet per day of raw gas from these two wells.” “We’ve differentiated ourselves from the rest of the market by taking a low-risk approach to identifying where helium is. At the same time, we are identifying ways to address the complexities associated with separating helium. On top of this, we are determining what integration along the value chain looks like.” “We’ve done this by creating strategic partnerships. We’re excited about the opportunity, the runway, and the blue sky in front of us,” concluded Johnson.
IHC has 88.5 million shares outstanding, with 137.3 million shares fully diluted. As of year end 2021, approximately 8.5% of the stock was owned by insiders. Auctus Advisors and Eight Capital have each issued a target price for Imperial Helium of CA$1.00 per share. The company’s shares trade under the symbol IHC on the TSX Venture Exchange and last closed at .18/share with a market cap of ~$16 million.


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A Responsible Take on the World’s #1 Resource

Back in October, we introduced our Stockhouse investor audience to a very different, and very profitable, kind of company that has been a market leader working to establish itself as the only primary helium producer in the world, but also as a leader in ESG practices.
Vancouver BC-based resource company Desert Mountain Energy Corp. (TSX-V: DME, OTCQX: DMEHF, Forum) is a vertically integrated producer of this valuable gas. Fast forward just over a month, and the company just announced that it had selected GENERON as the main contractor for the buildout of its first solar / hydrogen powered helium processing plant, located in Arizona. This news is sure to provide a boost for business, as helium plays a major role in much of the tech we use in our daily lives and shows just how important ESG-related companies really are to future global economies. In this exclusive video interview, Stockhouse Media’s Dave Jackson was joined by company Vice President of Land and Director, Jessica Davey to get company shareholders and investors completely up to date with all things Desert Mountain Energy.


SH: To begin with, let’s get your take on why we should invest in helium and

Click to enlargeJD: Well, helium is an incredibly valuable gas right now. And really what’s driving a lot of investment in energy right now is ESG. You know, it’s become a major influencer for investors. Without boring you with a bunch of details, for the folks that might be new to ESG concepts, I’ll kind of touch on very brief background beginning with the ‘E’ stands for environment and that’s really rooted in early environmental movements in the industrial revolution. The ‘S’ stands for social and that really surrounds the ideals of social equity and equality and the ‘G’ stands for governance, which really started with gaining momentum during the aftermath of the stock market crash in 1929. So none of these concepts are new. It’s really just blending the three of them that provide some more fulsome guidance on providing companies more of a background on how they should evaluate their decision-making process.

So, we’ve seen that companies that develop and adhere to really solid ESG policies show their stakeholders that they’re not only concerned with the impacts on their environment but the people in communities that are affected by their operations. They also really illustrate that they’re committed to the long-term financial health of the company itself. And so, investors have really become savvy in selecting companies based on their ESG policies because of the ethical foundations in them. You know, and we’ve seen higher trading prices for companies with good ESG policies.

SH: What’s the long-term societal benefit that helium provides?

JD: Oh my gosh, there are tons of benefits for helium. I’ll list off a few of the uses. One that most people don’t realize is that it’s used during the production of semiconductor chips. So all of our smartphones, tablets, computers, and other electronic devices, wouldn’t be here without helium. Other uses include space exploration, which we’re really excited about. It’s a primary gas used in automobile airbags. It’s used in the production of MRI magnets, and also added to air tanks used for medical treatments and deep-sea diving of all things. So, just a handful of uses to illustrate, the really extremely practical benefits of helium. All of these applications really help support the healthcare industry and further scientific and technological studies as well as provide a nice level of safety and comfort for millions of people and also party balloons are fun.

SH: At present, what do you see as the biggest area of growth for Desert Mountain Energy and how are you positioned to take advantage of it?

JD: So really right now our major growth areas really hinge on us getting our separation facility up and running in the Holbrook basin. So once that’s in place we can start turning on the production from our Wells and get that positive cash flow coming in. And once we get that going, we can start working on our plans for expansion into other areas in the basin. And maybe even outside the basin for other pure play helium opportunities.

SH: What separates Desert Mountain from the competition and what makes your business model so unique?

JD: So really the fact that Desert Mountain is a pure play helium operator sets us apart from most other companies. You know, this was a unique focus for me, really starting with a company this last year is we’ve been avoiding hydrocarbon production. So we’re also committed to being as carbon free as possible. Even the separation facility that we’re constructing there in the Holbrook basin is going to run off of solar panels and hydrogen startup and backup systems. So really truly a unique approach to running a separation facility. And this is what really sets us apart from the competition.

SH: Looking back on 2021, what have been some company highlights?

JD: So, two big highlights that really stand out to me is, first, me joining the company back during the summer to take over the land aspect of our operations. And then we brought on James Hayes as our VP of Engineering. So, with the addition of us two, it’s really allowed us to accomplish more in the past few months and really focus not only on the short-term goals, but really set us up for success in the coming years. You know, secondly, we have four Wells so far that have great helium shows and that demonstrates, you know, really the amount of hard work the company’s put into targeting these prime locations in the Holbrook basin.

SH: What are some of the corporate strategies in place for the company’s anticipated growth well into 2022 and beyond?

JD: So right now, our main focus is getting that separation facility up and operating in the next few months. Meaning we can turn on the production from the existing Wells and we’re, right now, finishing up submitting all of the requirements to get the next handful of Wells permitted through the State of Arizona. So, once we get the separation facility up and going, we can get all those Wells feeding into that and get that cashflow coming in like I mentioned before. That’s such an important step for the company getting that cashflow going. You know, not only for the company’s bottom line, but for our shareholders as well. We’re also actively working on a handful of strategic land acquisitions and targeting the next set of Wells that we’ll be drilling. So some major growth for the company in that aspect for the coming months. Also we’re working on a couple of other things that I’m not yet allowed to divulge, but we’ll be announcing soon.

SH: What makes the company and its projects such a good investment?

JD: So really Desert Mountain Energy has been super mindful from the very start. You know, as I said before, we are purposely staying away from hydrocarbon production, which our investors really appreciate. We’ve also really been working diligently in the communities that we operate, to establish long-term relationships with the landowners and the community stakeholders. So, I’m really proud to be part of a company that actually walks the walk. We don’t just have these empty promises to be a good steward to the land and the people to only cover up future mistakes, essentially. We really make sure that we, everything that we do stands up to a really high ethical standard and investors, if investors value really well-rounded energy companies with strong ethical foundations, then we are a really good choice.

SH: And finally, Jessica, if there’s anything I’ve overlooked please feel free to elaborate.

JD: Well, thank you for the opportunity to discuss something else that is, you know, really near and dear to my heart. Desert Mountain Energy currently has three women including myself on the Board of Directors. And this is a particularly high ratio of women to men on the Board than most small energy operators have. Robert Rohlfing has really intentionally worked on the diversity of the backgrounds of the Board as well, not only with gender, but everyone has varied experiences, which brings so much more value to the company. So, I’m super proud to be part of this company. And I hope to serve as a positive role model, especially for my nine-year-old daughter and as a leader in an industry that I truly love.


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2021 A Great Year For Helium Production In Saskatchewan

The President and CEO of Royal Helium says 2021 was an exceptionally busy year, with many big milestones met and exceeded. Andrew Davidson says wells were drilled in both southeast and southwest Saskatchewan, and there was a major discovery down by Climax, which has the potential to be one of the largest helium discoveries in Canadian history. Royal Helium has about million acres of land and has been drilling near Weyburn, Estevan, Ogema and Climax.
Right now, the publicly owned company is acquiring equipment to begin production. Davidson notes that Royal Helium is the first helium producer to be a public company.
He expects the most exciting advancement for Royal Helium in 2022, Davidson will be getting to the point of actual production, turning the wells on and producing helium to deliver into the market.The company’s CEO says when Royal Helium does well, the communities that surround them see the benefits too, because of the employment in the area and the trickle down effect with spending in the communities. He adds that their policy is also to hire locally whenever they can.
Davidson jokes that he never tires of explaining what helium is used for, because it’s not just about balloons. Helium is used primarily as an industrial coolant, which its largest single use in health care for MRI machines.


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Montana Oil Report: Avanti Energy Permits Two Additional Souris River Formation Wells In Search For Helium

New Locations

In Liberty County, two permits were issued for Avanti Energy Montana, Inc. wells:
The Orr 1-21, with a Surface Hole Location (SHL) at NE NE 21-37N-4E (1006 FNL/1013 FEL) and the Brown 13-31, with an SHL at Brown 13-31.
These wells, like the Avanti Energy wells recently permitted in Toole and Liberty Counties will target the Souris River Formation in a search for Helium.

Re-Entry of Plugged Wells

In Daniels County, a permit was approved to Karsted Operating, LLC to renter the plugged well State 19-1, which has an SHL at SE NW 19-34N-46E (1979 FNL/1898 FWL). The re-entry will target the Dakota Formation at a Proposed Depth of 5,750 feet.
The State 19-1 was drilled in 1993. The well was in production until early 1996. In September 1993 the State 19-1 reported a production of 3,315 barrels of oil over a 30 day production period from the Madison Formation.
The purpose to re-enter the well is to convert it into a injection disposal well.

Re-Issued Locations

In Toole County, a permit was re-issued to Forza Operating, LLC for the Turner 34-1H, with an SHL at SW SW 34-35N-1E (330 FSL/940 FWL) and a proposed depth of 7,886 feet. The well will aim for the Nisku Formation. This will be the first well in Montana for Forza, which currently operates in Texas and Louisiana.

Abandoned Wells

In Blaine County, final abandonment was approved for the ML&E Tiger Ridge 14-17-31N-19, which has an SHL at SE SW 17-31N-19E (524 FSL/1695 FWL),
In Dawson County’s Sand Creek Field, final abandonment procedures were approved for Wesco Operating, Inc.’s Guelff 1, located at SE NE 4-15N-54E (2092 FNL/560 FEL).
In Hill County, two NorthWestern Corporation wells have been approved for abandonment: in the St. Joe Road Field, the Heavey-Federal 1-13-37-15, located at SW SW 1-37N-15E (995 FSL/1001 FWL) and the Surean 17-13-37-15D, located at SW SW 17-37N-15E (1016 FSL/1312 FWL). Another NorthWestern Corp. well, the Thiel 10-14-34-16, which is a wildcat well, is located at SE SW 10-34N-16E (1065 FSL/2380 FWL).
The Heavey-Federal was drilled in 2007 by Klabzuba Oil & Gas, Inc. The well produced 100,000 cubic feet of gas per day when the initial production test was reported, and the
well was put into production on August 27, 2007. Peak production was reached that first year, with 4,607,000 cubic feet of gas being produced over one 31 day period. The last production was recorded in 2016 when the Heavey-Federal produced 14,000 cubic feet. Gas was produced from the Niobrara Formation. Also in the St. Joe Road Field, the NorthWestern Corporation Surean 17-13-37-15D was approved for abandonment. The Surean has an SHL at SW SW 17-37N-15E (1016 FSL/1312 FWL).
In Richalnd County, three Slawson Exploration Company Inc. wells, all located in the Lone Butte Field, were OK’s for final abandonment:
The Baue 1-21, with an SHL at SE SW 21-25N-57E (660 FSL/1980 FWL); The Baue 2-21, with an SHL at SE SW 21-25N-57E (670 FSL/1805 FWL); The Baue 3-21, with an SHL at SE SW 21-25N-57E (968 FSL/1892 FWL).
The Baue 1-21 was completed on January 2, 1985. The well was originally drilled by Tom Brown, Inc. Over the years, the operator for the well changed from Tom Brown, Inc. to ANR Production; then the well went to Headington Oil Company. In 2003, the operator became Slawson Exploration. Initial Production of the Baue 1-21 was recorded as 606.5 BOPD (Barrels of oil Per Day); 5553 MCFPD Thousand Cubic Feet of gas per day) and 3.25 gallons of water per day, producing from the Red River Formation.
In Carbon County’s Northwest Elk Basin Field, the Contango Resources, Inc. Madison 15 well was approved for final abandonment. The well’s SHL was at NW SE 29-9S-23E (1980 FSL/2320 FEL).
Final abandonment was approved for the Helios 5-52 16-32, a Highlands Montana Corporation well located in Custer County with an SHL at SW NE 16-5N-52E (1535 FNL/2375 FEL. The well was drilled in 2016m and only nine days after the well was spud, the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation Database records that the well was “Junked and Abandoned, radioactive source left in the hole.” The well file for the well have not been uploaded to the database yet, so further details were not available.


Prima Exploration, Inc. reported the completion of the Water Hole #1. The injection-disposal well has an SHL at SW SE 24-25N-58E (240 FSL/2288 FEL) in Richland County.

Noah Energy Spring Hill 14-34-27-6HZ well
Heat from flared gas distorts the image of the Noah Energy Spring Hill 14-34-27-6HZ well near Pendroy. The Lodgepole Formation well was drilled by Primary Petroleum, but was later acquired by Noah.


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