Over the coming days, we’re going to be looking at my top 10 stories across the industrial gas year – and what a year it has been. We’re going to see hydrogen, synthetic fuels, ASU growth, medical oxygen milestones, and so much more besides.
Here at number 10, I’ve chosen a story that I think perfectly book-ends the industrial gas year.
It’s a story that we began the year with and, at the time of writing, it’s very much a story we end the year with following a mega Helium Super Summit in Houston, Texas in the last fortnight. Yes, that’s right, it’s that perennial hot topic: helium.
Back in the year’s first quarter, early March in fact, we saw esteemed helium expert Phil Kornbluth ponder in the below story, what’s next for helium markets?
In it, Kornbluth previewed a big year for the global helium business, with the pending arrival on the world stage of Gazprom’s long-awaited Amur Project – which will ultimately include three trains of 700 MMCF each for an eventual total of 2.1 billion cubic feet (BCF) of helium once fully up and running – and the start of production from the Barzan Gas Plant in Qatar, known as Qatar 3.
It came following a relatively quiet 10-12 months for the helium business. Covid-19 had taken a ‘chunk’ out of helium demand and brought Helium Shortage 3.0 to a rather abrupt end in February 2020, and there had been a relative lack of headline events impacting helium markets.
Later in the year we would also see Kornbluth reflect on the ‘unprecedented’ levels of helium start-up activity, amidst the new gold rush in this business.
And as we close the book on 2021 and look ahead to 2022, we’ve just finished writing this chapter on helium, with all of the insights and updates provided at gasworld’s Helium Super Summit in Houston earlier this month.
Among the key takeaways, we heard confirmation that helium markets will become far less US-centric in the years ahead, how there is so much vigour in non-hydrocarbon-based sourcing routes for helium, and the sense of sustainability that these provide in every respect.
We also heard how the electronics sector is likely to surpass magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as the biggest demand driver for helium.
In fact, the semiconductor sector is likely to become a $1 trillion market by 2030, according to Michael Corbett, Managing Partner of Linx Consulting.
And with the logistics and security of supply of helium the subject of so much debate, it was fitting that Air Products also made a world-exclusive announcement at the event, of a new (helium) storage cavern in Texas – the world’s largest. The cavern is fully operational as of 2021.
What a year is has been in the whirlwind helium business and, in many ways, it all began with those thoughts of Phil Kornbluth back in March…