To help ensure the “secure, sustainable and affordable supply” of Helium (He) for the European Union (EU) manufacturing industry, the EU has added it to its Critical Raw Material List.

First put forward in 2008 to tackle the challenges related to the access to raw materials, the European commission has updated its list of 27 “critical raw materials”. Nine materials, including He, have been added, updating the 2014 list. 

He Markets have been unstable in recent years with three years of global shortage during the period 2011 to 2013, followed by two years of oversupply caused by the start of production from the Qatar II plant in 2014 to 2015. The global He market was on course to find equilibrium, however limited output from Qatar in 2017 (due to the geopolitical situation with its neighbours, and consequent border closures) is likely to have created another global supply shortage.

The USA is the world’s leading He supplier followed by Quatar. Algeria, Austrialia, Canada, Poland and Russia are also producing nations.

The list of critical raw materials for the EU is subject to regular update at least every three years, in order to reflect production, market and technology developments and the number of raw materials assessed has increased with each update.

It is hoped the list should help incentivise the European production of critical raw materials through enhancing recycling activities and, when necessary, to facilitate the launching of new mining activities. It also allows to better understand how the security of supply of raw materials can be achieved through supply diversification, from different geographical sources via extraction, recycling or substitution.

The 27 raw materials are listed as critical for the EU because risks of supply shortage and their impacts on the economy are higher than those of most of the other raw materials.