The scene is set: a new normal helium business buoyed by overdue new applications demand, more than enough new capacity to meet this increased appetite, and the arrival of new market players. That’s how the global helium business might well look post-2021.

So what will it take to get there, and just how much will our traditional view of this ever-evolving industry be subject to change?

Providing the answers to these questions will be the aim of gasworld’s Helium Super Summit in Houston, Texas this October, officially launched last week. For anyone involved in the global helium business, it will clearly be a must-attend event, but I also believe it will be both interesting as well as imperative, and here’s why.

For as long as I can remember, the helium business has been beset – and arguably defined by – the vulnerabilities in its supply chain, and those dynamics certainly pre-date my own time observing the industry.

From shortage to balance (2006/7), shortage (2011-2013) to surplus, and now shortage to more plentiful again in 2020. That’s been the story of the helium business over the last decade or more, and where it could be heading in the year ahead.

The global helium markets are still in the grip of Helium Shortage 3.0, a market squeeze which can be traced back to February 2018 and the origins of which actually traced back to June 2017 and the enforcement of the Qatar embargo. That event saw roughly 30% of global supply taken off the market for several weeks and a major disruption to supply logistics. It also caused the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to begin allocating the supply of crude helium to the four helium refiners (Air Products, Linde, Messer and Keyes Helium) who depend on the BLM for feedgas.

Helium: Why everything you knew is about to change

While helium markets temporarily returned to near normal during autumn 2017, the BLM never discontinued its allocation of crude helium feedgas, and logistics for helium from Qatar remained challenging. Due to a combination of this tight supply and renewed growth in demand over the last few years, we’ve essentially been in the midst of Helium Shortage 3.0 ever since.

The expectation is that this latest tightening of supply could begin to ease by the end of the year. In fact, the pendulum of helium supply could be about to swing so much that a ‘much more favourable environment’ is in place for the period from 2021 onwards. Helium Shortage 3.0 is the freshest in our minds, but could it also be the last for some time?

It would of course be folly to make such a bold statement, but our traditional view of the market really is about to change and from what I understand, it could change quite quickly too.

The next 1-2 years will fly by, while we are still largely preoccupied by everyday twists and turns in the world around us – from the impact and spread of coronavirus to ‘Brexit’, escalating trade wars or the 2020 race to the White House. Before we know it, such time has passed that a new era could well be upon us in the global helium business.

We need to be ready for that.

We need to know how our helium is going to be produced and where from, in a world that’s post-BLM Pipeline; we need to know or at least prepare our minds for how those supply routes might logistically work out; we need to know where the demand hubs will be, what markets or applications need serving, and how we meet that demand.

BLM making progress toward privitisation of helium assets

Will we really see airships and internet connectivity-driven balloons above our skies? What uplift will these bring to helium demand? Can the electronics sector really continue to drive or expand its helium consumption? And what, in a post-Linde plc and BLM Pipeline commercial market, will the playing field look like in this new era? Who will the movers and shakers be?

These are all questions that we’ll need to know the answers to as part of our 2021-2025 toolkit of intelligence. These are all the kinds of questions that the Helium Super Summit will address this October. That’s why the event is so important, arguably more than ever before, but also so very interesting too.

I remember learning the dynamics of our current helium business so many years ago now and, to a large extent, it was so very traditional. It had been that way for a long time. Isn’t it exciting, if not a little daunting, that we might now be on the cusp of a whole new dawn in helium, a whole new marketplace?

If everything we knew about helium is about to change, then what better time to arm ourselves with that foresight and immerse ourselves in being a part of that change?

Helium Super Summit

The Helium Super Summit 2020 has just been launched, and will be held at the The Westin Houston, Memorial City in Houston, Texas from 27th - 29th October (2020).

For more information about the event, the speaking agenda, and opportunities to participate as a delegate, exchibitor or sponsor, visit www.gasworldconferences.com.