Helium provider BOC is joining forces with a major user and Cambridge academics to sponsor a three year research project, the results of which are expected to reveal how much longer industry can rely on this increasingly scarce resource.

BOC and UKAEA\\$quot;s Fusion Engineering Outreach programme in the UK are jointly funding The Helium Resources Project at Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, to determine the long-term availability and demands for helium, a unique but finite resource extracted from natural gas reserves.

Richard Clarke of the UKAEA said: "Because helium is inextricably tied with natural gas reserves it seems inevitable that the world will run low of this rare gas, it is just a matter of when this will happen. The purpose of this project is to help us understand if and how the use of our helium resources can be sustained so that present consumption does not leave us short in the future."

Clarke continued: "While of significance to a range of industries the findings will have particular relevance to fusion energy research where liquid helium is used extensively. As progress is made towards a working reactor, decisions will have to be made about what role helium will have in fusion power stations."

"Doing the work now to anticipate what will be needed in ten to twenty years is crucial. Already we have technological solutions on the horizon that could potentially reduce fusion\\$quot;s dependence on helium. We need a basis for deciding a programme to put resources into these, so that new technologies are developed and accepted."

Nick Ward, BOC business manager helium and special products said: "BOC\\$quot;s objective is to ensure a secure supply for our customers well into the future.

"While BOC is constantly working with our customers to understand and predict their future needs, strategic planning for helium dependent industries requires a broader understanding of this resource, the relevant technology being developed around it and the full dynamics of the helium market.

"Sustaining a global supply of helium is, without a doubt, vital for helium dependent industries. BOC believes this project will advance our understanding and pave the way for new market and technological opportunities."