LEHIGH VALLEY, Pa., Jan. 30, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- "Like fossil fuels, helium is a finite resource. While the known supplies are sufficient to meet demand for more than 100 years, and with advances in exploration and drilling, chances are that we may find even more, this finite resource must be managed," is the message Walter Nelson, director of Helium sourcing at Air Products (NYSE: APD) delivered today at the European Industrial Gas Association (EIGA) Symposium in Brussels, Belgium.
Air Products is one of the largest helium refiners in the United States and a leading supplier globally. There has been much discussion recently about the tightness in the market and the availability of helium. Nelson's presentation discussed all aspects of the helium business: where helium comes from; its uses and market demand; availability and distribution; supply shortage; and conservation and recycling efforts. Most importantly, Nelson presented the key actions necessary to maintain and increase helium supply for today and tomorrow.
The importance of an available helium supply to society is easily demonstrated by its many uses. The largest end-user market segments for helium are the health industry with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and MRI manufacturing, and the semi-conductor industry. Scientific research, and traditional uses such as cutting and welding, balloons and lifting applications, diving gas mixtures and analytical and leak detection, are several other end-uses for the noble gas.
Addressing tightness in the helium market, Nelson said that we are seeing a shortage of helium supply resulting from limits in natural gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) production as well as some existing production plant disruptions around the globe. There are no naturally-occurring underground reservoirs of pure helium. Helium is a byproduct of natural gas production."The current shortage in the helium market is unprecedented. Investments by the energy sector are necessary to develop and employ helium recovery with natural gas processing where there is helium present," he said. "Not all natural gas fields are alike. Part of the decline in helium production is due to companies focusing their natural gas drilling efforts on natural gas that is rich in liquids rather than 'dry gas' which typically has more helium."