24th February 2020

As we enter 2020, reports on the helium crisis predict the shortage will ease by the second half of the year but this does not mean that it will be disappear - it’s actually anticipated to go on until 2021.
Woman wearing a white lab coat in the lab
The projected ease of the shortage is believed to be dependent on new suppliers making their way into the helium market, such as Gazprom’s Amur Project in Russia (700 mmcf/2021 Q2), Qatar (425 mmcf/2020 Q3), and Arzew, Algeria (425 mmcf/2020 Q3), as BLM plans its exit by privatizing its reserves from 30th September 2021. Phil Kornbluth, however, does warn that such new projects may take some time before they can be fully implemented.

These new sources of helium combined will allow for great capacity for the gas, but what will the implications on helium price be?  Although the peak for helium price at 135% increase is likely to be behind us now, experts claim helium costs are likely to remain high. It is also believed prices are set to spike again before the end of year, as Gazprom’s Amur Project enters the market by mid-2021, rendering the helium trade more competitive.

The helium supply-chain is also overshadowed by the uncertainty that potential political unrest in the Middle East may bring about, such as the tight helium supply situation that emerged following Saudi Arabia’s embargo of Qatar in 2017. Qatar holds roughly 30% of the world’s helium supply, and risks of disruption of the Strait of Hormuz could be catastrophic for the helium market if the recent tensions continue to escalate.

The main issue with the helium crisis is that helium gas is a finite resource required for critical applications where there is no alternative available. For gas chromatography (GC) applications, however, hydrogen gas is a viable alternative for a range of methods. Working with hydrogen gas instead of helium is also the way forward for labs looking at implementing an ethical supply chain for their lab’s environmental credentials. As a renewable resource readily produced from deionized water with an in-house gas generator, labs using hydrogen can source their gas supply with a far less energy-intensive process than it is to source helium, thereby reducing their overall carbon footprint.

Gas chromatographers requiring helium for their GC applications can eliminate risks of interruption to their analysis by switching from helium to hydrogen gas, using an in-house hydrogen gas generator. With a hydrogen gas generator, you can take control of your own gas supply by producing your own gas. Relying on third parties for your gas supply will no longer be a concern with access to your gas 24/7.

Having complete control over your gas source also means having more control over your budget. The fluctuating prices for helium gas make it harder for labs to manage their regular outgoings due to the unpredictable nature of the helium supply chain having a top-down effect on consumers. A hydrogen generator will also help you cut down on your overall costs for your gas supply by removing additional costs associated with gas cylinder supply such as delivery and rental charges. With a hydrogen generator, you will only require a one-time delivery for the installation of your equipment.

Safety is another crucial factor to consider when considering making the switch from helium to hydrogen. Pressurized gas cylinders can pose serious safety risks to a site and its personnel if not handled carefully or in the event of an undetected leak due to the large volumes of gas stored inside a cylinder. A hydrogen gas generator, however, produces gas as required by your instrument, meaning very little hydrogen gas is stored at any one time. The built-in failsafe technology also means you don’t have to worry about a leak, as the gas generator will shutdown in the unlikely event that a leak is detected.  

As the uncertainty behind helium supply spills into 2020, it becomes clearer for labs that switching to an in-house hydrogen generator for their GC analysis is the safer and more reliable option. With helium prices likely to remain high for an undetermined period of time, a hydrogen generator is also the cost-effective alternative to helium, allowing labs to take ownership of their in-house analytical gas supply.   


You may also be interested in:

Lab Gas Bulletin August 2019

Helium Shortage

The future of GC in the face of another helium shortage 

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