In light of the recent helium supply shortage sending shockwaves throughout the industry, a joint venture project between Air Products and Matheson Tri-Gas has announced it will build and operate a new liquid helium plant in the US.

Air Products and Matheson Tri-Gas, a member of the Taiyo Nippon Sanso Corporation (TNSC), will jointly build and operate a new liquid helium production plant near Big Piney, Wyoming – the first new US facility since 2000.

The plant, designed to produce 200 million cubic feet per year from start-up, will process crude helium produced by a natural gas processing facility that would be owned by Cimarex Energy Co. and its partner Riley Ridge LLC.

Upon completion, the Wyoming facility will help to cater for the extensive market demand for helium and will be the tenth liquid helium plant operating in the US, expected to initially employ around 8-10 people.

John Van Sloun, general manager of Helium and Rare Gases for Air Products, commented, “We are enthusiastic about developing the helium reserves at Riley Ridge. Bringing on this new source, with very long-lived helium reserves, will enable us to further diversify our helium supply and enhance our ability to reliably serve our worldwide customers.”

“We continue to see tightness in the supply of helium in the global market. The initial helium volumes expected from Riley Ridge in 2009 are relatively small, but this important new facility can produce additional product to help meet growing global demand,” added Van Sloun.

TNSC is the leading helium supplier in Japan and one of only 6 industrial gas companies in the world with direct access to helium sources. When parent company TNSC acquired the helium assets divested in connection with Linde AG’s acquisition of The BOC Group, Matheson Tri-Gas Global Helium was formed (September 2006).

Matheson Tri-Gas believe the new venture will not only improve the company’s status as a competitor in the demanding helium market, but will also enhance the services provided to customers.

Phil Kornbluth, executive vice president of Global Helium for Matheson Tri-Gas, explained, “Taiyo Nippon Sanso purchased a ‘sold out’ helium business from Linde with limited ability to grow. Helium from the Riley Ridge Project will improve our ability to supply existing customers and provide the opportunity to grow the business, beginning in 2009. Moreover, Matheson Tri-Gas’ participation in the Riley Ridge Project gives us additional credibility as a competitor in the global helium business.”

The ‘long-lived’ reserves are believed to be capable of providing a sufficient helium supply for many years to come. The Cimarex facility will process natural gas from the Riley Ridge field in Wyoming – the second largest helium-rich natural gas field in the US. Riley Ridge is believed to contain enough helium reserves to support production for decades and production at the plant is expected to commence in only 2 years time, in 2009.

Air Products is the global leader in helium production having pioneered many of the helium extraction, production, distribution and storage technologies used in the industry today and maintaining the world’s largest helium production and distribution system, operating numerous facilities around the world.

The current supply shortage concerns are sending ripples throughout a number of industries as helium is used in so many unique and valued applications, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in hospitals, scientific and recreational balloons, fibre optics and semiconductor manufacture, unique blood gas medical mixtures and a host of other advanced applications.