A Unique Element with Remarkable Character
Total Helium is advancing its exploration projects to help alleviate supply problems and make the United States and Canada more self-sufficient in the global Helium market.
What is Helium?
Helium is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic mono-atomic noble gas with various industrial uses, mainly known for its use in balloons.
Helium is the smallest element, known as the lighter than air gas. It is second only to hydrogen in lightness.
Its stable structure with two protons makes it chemically inert. With the lowest liquefication temperature, it has a unique resistance to freezing at temperatures near absolute zero, distinguishing Helium from all other elements.
While Helium is commonly known for its use in balloons, ready access to affordable Helium is critical for academia, private enterprises and governments.
- Government agencies critically dependent on Helium include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Department of Defense (DoD).
- NASA and DoD utilize Helium as a pressurizing and purging agent in rockets and depend on balloons for surveillance systems needed for weather missions and national security.
- Medical professionals depend on Helium for their superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDS) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) devices.
- Scientists rely on Helium for small scale cryogenic research, fiber optics and high field magnets to conduct research.
- Helium’s thermal conductivity is vastly higher than other gasses and its ability to diffuse through solid materials makes it vital for fiber optics manufacturing.
- Helium, a technologically and politically critical gas, is crucial to intricate semiconductor manufacturing because of its inertness and high thermal conductivity.
- Welding requires Helium as a shield gas due to its high ionization potential, thermal conductivity and inertness.
Helium Pricing Decoupled from Natural Gas Market with Both Pricing on the Rise
A Critical and Non-Renewable Resource
While it’s one of the most abundant resources in the universe, Helium is a scarce non-renewable resource on the Earth. Helium’s lightness allows it to escape into the atmosphere and beyond.
Almost all Helium produced in the world and used in industrial applications is trapped beneath the Earth’s surface. Natural gas producers are the primary agents of Helium production.
Due to its national security implications, its supply and storage has been tightly regulated by the U.S. Government for a long time. In the early 1900s, major powers around the world understood and invested in the unique properties of Helium, principally as an inert lifting gas.
The U.S. Government tasked the U.S. Bureau of Mines to study and produce Helium during World War I. The success of German military zeppelins and Cold-War excitement around Helium’s use in high tech applications, rockets and more led to the U.S. Government establishing and enlarging the Helium supply and reserve network today known as The Federal Helium Reserve.
- Today, the Federal Helium Reserve, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is the only significant long-term storage facility for crude Helium in the world.
- While the United States has historically been the largest source of supply for Helium, a significant portion of this supply has been satisfied through auctions of the Federal Helium Reserve.
- The Helium Privatization Act of 1996 directed that almost all the federally owned Helium and the Federal Helium Reserve infrastructure be sold by the end of 2021.
- As part of the Helium Privatization Act, the last federal auction was finalized in 2019.
- During the last federal auction, prices for crude Helium (80% purity) reached $280/Mcf with spot prices for end-users reportedly going past $1,000/Mcf.
- The mandated sale and depletion of federal Helium take a sizable portion of the global supply out of the market, creating major supply concerns for the domestic and global users.
Total Helium as a Solution
While the Helium Privatization Act of 1996 expected private Helium production to fill the gap, few new guaranteed Helium supply sources are expected to come online.
These new Helium projects are located in geopolitically sensitive Russia and Qatar. The 2017 blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and UAE started in 2017 cut off ~30% worlds Helium supply, creating havoc across supply chains around the world. The official lifting of blockade in the beginning of 2021 still hasn’t fully solved the problem.
Total Helium is working on exploration projects to help alleviate the supply problems and make the United States and Canada more self-sufficient in the global Helium market.