17th January 2023
Increasing investment in Chips production set to compound helium shortage for GC labs?
With the sale of the BLM and the Federal Helium Reserve taking place, the US helium market is an unstable landscape for labs who are dependent on a constant helium supply. While this event alone is causing disruption, it is not the only incident that will have an impact on the helium market as we move forward through 2023 and into the future.
US Chips & Science Act
The CHIPS & Science Act 2022, which the US Government have introduced, will add pressure to the already strained helium market. The Act is meant to “revitalize domestic manufacturing, create good-paying American jobs, strengthen American supply chains, and accelerate the industries of the future.”
The Whitehouse website states the CHIPS & Science Act will “boost American semiconductor research, development, and production, ensuring U.S. leadership in the technology that forms the foundation of everything from automobiles to household appliances to defense systems.”
Driven by this new legislation, Micron have announced a huge investment in memory chip manufacturing which is said to bring the US market share of memory chip production from less than 2% to up to 10% over the next decade.
Alongside Micron, Qualcomm and GlobalFoundries have announced a partnership to invest in the manufacturing of chips. Qualcomm have announced plans to increase semiconductor production in the US by up to 50% over the next 5 years.
While this may be good news for US manufacturing, it will no doubt result in more strain on the already stretched-thin helium market.
In Gasworld’s most recent Helium webinar, Helium Markets Reimagined Part 2, Nick Haines, Head of Helium at Messer Americas, said the CHIPS & Science Act is likely to have an impact on the global helium supply but, at the moment, it’s difficult to know how much of an impact.
One of the key takeaways from the webinar was, looking ahead for the next 12 months, there are definite opportunities for helium and there is plenty of activity, but there will not be a shift into oversupply any time soon. The overall agreement was the market will remain tight over the next 12 months, but should be calmer than the past 2 years which suffered heavily from Covid and the subsequent supply chain issues.
However, the biggest unknown is how the sale of the Federal Helium Reserve will affect the market. And, unfortunately, only time will tell.
What is the state of helium in the rest of the world?
The USA is not the only country funneling money into the production of chips.
The European Parliament are looking to implement the European Chips Act which, in October 2022, a draft proposal was presented and discussed during the Industry, Research and Energy meeting. The final vote on their report is scheduled to take place in early 2023.
The European Chips Act is based on three pillars and follows a similar vein to the CHIPS & Science Act in the US. Pillar 1 is to bolster large-scale technological capacity building and innovation in the EU chips ecosystem; pillar 2 is set to improve the EU’s security of supply; and pillar 3 sets up a monitoring and crisis response mechanism.
In the event of supply crises, the Commission would be allowed to implement three types of emergency measures: ask companies for information, ask companies to accept and prioritize orders of crisis-relevant products, and make shared purchases on behalf of Member States.
China’s 2015 plan “Made in China 2025” set the aim of producing 40% of the country’s chip consumption in 2020 and 70% by 2025 – it’s said between 2015 and 2025, Chinese government support to its domestic chip industry could reach US$200 billion.
Japan, who was the world-leader in chip technologies in the late 1980s, introduced a new growth strategy in 2021, which focused on strengthening its semiconductor industry. In June 2021, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry adopted a strategy for semiconductors and digital industry, promoting the manufacturing of cutting-edge logic semiconductors for post-5G technologies, and develop manufacturing equipment and materials that will support the domestic semiconductor investment.
South Korea unveiled plans in May 2021 to spend around US$450 billion up to 2030 to reinforce its chip industry. The introduction of tax breaks, lower interest rates and eased regulations and reinforced infrastructure were just some of the measures put in place to make it more attractive to foreign investment.
In June 2020, Taiwan announced a US$1.3 billion annual fund to attract foreign companies to establish chip R&D projects, subsidizing up to 50% of all R&D costs incurred. It announced that it would invest US$335 million to encourage foreign companies to establish chip R&D facilities in Taiwan.
How could this affect your lab helium gas supply?
Labs across the globe have been feeling the effects of limited helium supplies for a long time now. And, with governments all over the world implementing plans to increase chip production and safeguard their supply chains, this helium shortage will remain a constant threat for many labs who use helium for their GC analysis.
Unfortunately, supplies of helium will be provided to those of highest priority and, with the bills being implemented world-wide, it seems that the chip industry will be high on the list of priorities.
While this could seem like it’s a blow for many labs, there are helium alternatives that can be used instead.
We are seeing many instrument manufacturers looking at new ways to get round the frequent helium market disruptions. Agilent have introduced the HydroInert; Shimadzu are looking at ways to reduce helium gas consumption in GC through the use of hydrogen and nitrogen generators; and Thermo Fisher have introduced the Helium Saver to reduce the consumption of helium by using nitrogen gas for all injection processes other than carrier gas.
PEAK Scientific have a range of solutions to provide high-quality gas to your GC without impacting the quality of your results. The Precision range can provide nitrogen gas, hydrogen gas and zero air depending on the needs of your lab and can provide a sustainable and constant alternative to helium.
By taking control of your lab gas, through investing in an in-house gas generator, you will be able to weather the frequent helium shortages and future-proof your lab.
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