WBPC 2019 Abstract #32
Helium is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert gas that heads the noble gas group in the periodic table. Its boiling point is the lowest among all elements (-452° Fahrenheit). The commodity value of helium is over 30 times that of natural gas.
Helium is used as a coolant liquid in cryogenics where it is mostly used to cool superconductive magnets of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanners, as a lifting gas, analytical and laboratory applications, for welding metals, in the semiconductor chip manufacturing and optical fibre cables.
The current way to produce crude helium is to extract it as a by-product from natural gas at the upstream source or as a by-product in the LNG process. Following extraction, crude helium is being refined into pure helium. Transport of helium over larger distances is only commercially feasible in liquefied form (as it shrinks by the factor of 750) in ISO containers, with boil off starting after 30-45 days. Helium can also be stored underground in gaseous form (e.g. in Texas and in Germany).
The United States is currently the largest producer of helium in the world representing 58% of the global supply but many of the reservoirs are rapidly depleting. Other countries with large production include Qatar (30%) and Algeria (6%).
Asia is the largest market for helium worldwide in 2018, consuming about 33% of the total volume, followed by the US (32%) and Europe (19%). Helium was added by the European Commission on the list of critical material in 2017 due to its economic importance and supply risk. Europe is depending on imports from North America; hence European wholesalers (like Uniper) are looking for new sources to ensure sufficient helium supply for Europe.