Riding the rare-gas rollercoaster


The supply of rare gases has been compromised since September 2021. Christian Annesley reports on developments

It has been a rollercoaster ride of late when it comes to rare gases supply – and pricing. Exactly what is behind that bumpy ride? And where are we at today?

Let’s take it back to basics, with a look over all the recent disruptions. Krypton, xenon, and neon are by-products of very large air separation units (ASUs) and such giant ASUs are almost all attached to steel mills that process 1,500 tons of air, or more, per day.

In mid-2021, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, all three rare gases were seeing demand levels that were just beginning to approach the level of global production. This supply-and-demand tightening pushed up prices a little in the first half of 2021. Then, in September 2021, China closed two steel mills that produce all three rare gases. That put a squeeze on supply as the mills accounted for about a tenth of global rare-gas supply.

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