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World-critical helium may be in short supply
Technology

World-critical helium may be in short supply 

So-called noble or inert gases such as helium, argon, neon, xenon and krypton often tend to be limited to niche markets. Everything except helium. This gas is in demand more than all other inert gases combined.

 Helium

Photo: polzovred.ru

It is a vital resource for modern technologies in the production of microchips, hybrid air vehicles filled with helium hard drives and even in space exploration.

Helium has traditionally been used in balloons. This gas is seven times lighter than air and is not explosive like hydrogen. Unfortunately, the role of hydrogen in the crash of the German airship Hindenburg in 1937 cast a shadow on its potential for many decades.

Our planet's atmosphere contains trace amounts of helium: 5.2 parts per million. This makes it the second rarest free gas in the air of the Earth. So industrial helium is made primarily from natural gas.

Why helium is so important to the world

The unique properties of helium make it an important component in cryogenics, shielding, leak detection, heat transfer and more. Its liquefaction temperature is minus 261.1 degrees Celsius. This is the lowest liquefaction temperature of any inert gas.

And that means there is no substitute for helium where ultra-low temperatures are required. For example, this gas is an important component in the manufacture of semiconductor crystals. The use of helium in this process, as well as in healthcare, space exploration and quantum computing, is rapidly increasing global demand.

In the United States, helium is extracted from wells in Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Texas is home to the Federal Helium Reserve. USA – the largest producer of this gas in the world, accounting for approximately 40% of world supplies. Alas, the reserve at Amarillo – the world's largest source of helium over the past 70 years – is nearly depleted. And no new reserves are yet to be seen.

Helium has experienced alternating boom and bust cycles over the years. And now the long-term outlook is mostly optimistic. The global helium market is expected to grow from $ 10.6 billion in 2019 to $ 15.73 billion by 2023, corresponding to a CAGR of 11%.

There are now only ten helium producers worldwide … These are Airgas, Air Liquid, Linde, Messer Group, Air Products, Gazprom, Gulf Cryo, Matheson Tri-Gas, Exxon and Praxair. And if their number does not increase, the world faces a critical shortage of extremely important gas. : ///

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