Over 200 individuals today tuned in for the return of gasworld webinars, with part one of a three-part series devoted to helium market and sponsored by speciality chemicals company Evonik.

Titled Helium: Understanding the Market in 2020, the discussion and debate returned around one of the hottest topics in the industrial gas business today, led and hosted by Rob Cockerill, gasworld’s Global Managing Editor.

In recent years, due to recurring shortages of helium and its increased commercial value, there has been an unprecedented amount of activity related to exploration for new helium source, this is something that was discussed by the webinar’s first guest, James R. Weaver.

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“Right now, we’ve got about a dozen companies or so exploring for helium. In the past, most helium was found by accident when looking for natural gas, and that’s just not a way to really find additional helium. We really need to go out and look for helium on its own,” Weaver told viewers.

“A lot of the time these companies will put out press releases, items and even reports on their websites, that use terms like technical recoverable reserves or potentially recoverably resources, which really don’t have any meaning. What we really need to do is look at what terms should be used in those press releases and what an investor can look for when he sees those terms, and how to make sense of them.”

“When it comes to commerciality or the potential to recover those resources, there is a lot of difference between reserves and resources. Right now, there are several schemes out there that are used to report reserves. The one that’s used most commonly around the world, and is gaining more traction, is the Petroleum Resource Management System (PRMS). However, there is no official definition of helium reserves and resources.”

Referring to his article that was published on the gasworld website last month, Weaver explained PRMS’ definitions of reserves, contingent resources and prospective resources, all of which are commonly used terms by multiple helium-focused companies today.

Read more: Helium reserves or resoruces - What’s the difference?

Sharing with the audience what they should look for when reading the reports pushed out by companies, Weaver explained, “If you see the word reserves, they’re discovered and there should be some economic discussion in that report. The company would have had to run economics and would have had to go into a lot of detail, such as a development plan.” 

“Another thing to keep in mind is, if it’s a report that has contingent respective resources, usually there is a disclaimer in the report that there’s a possibility that these could never become reserves.”

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Membrane technology

Next, it was over to Alex Evans, Business Development Manager of Membranes at Evonik Membrane Technology, who discussed Evonik’s SEPURAN® membrane technology.

Talking to gasworld earlier this month, Evans explained that Evonik’s SEPURAN® Noble membranes are specifically developed for helium recovery and purification enabling highly pure helium to be efficiently produced even when inlet concentrations of helium are very low - something that makes the technology stand out in such a demanding market. 

Read more: Exclusive: An interview with Evonik

“We’re in this world now of Helium Shortage 3.0, and in the past two or three years, the global supply of helium has not been able to keep up with demand. The BLM’s actions have forced helium consumers to look for individual suppliers or individual sources of helium. Today, nearly all helium comes from rock formations very similar to natural gas, which is going to be the focus of where our membranes are relevant,” he said.

“I’m here to present membranes as a solution to significantly reduce the cost of producing helium and efficiently producing high quality helium. By nature, Evonik is a speciality chemical company, we developed the best polymer in the world for membrane-based separations, but we need a partner to engineer a useful system.”

“A membrane by itself is not useful. And this is where our collaboration with Linde Engineering comes in, to integrate our membranes into their gas processing plant designs.”

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A game changer in helium seperation and purification 

Following on from Evans, who touched on Evonik’s collaboration with Linde Engineering, was Patrick Schiffmann from Linde Engineering.

Linde has been working with Evonik’s polymer-based membrane technology in gas separation and purification plants for several years, and Schiffmann shared with the webinar audience both its role and efficacy with a helium purification plant in Canada.

“We at Linde Engineering have a toolbox of gas separation technologies and recently we have introduced the membranes into our portfolio. In the specific project with Evonik we combined those technologies into a new hybrid system which will really change the game in helium separation and purification,” he told the audience.

“This membrane has very high selectively and it is double of membranes that were on the market before. The capacity is very good, and the stability is very good, so that is why this material and the optimisation of the material, as well as the production of the membrane is incredibly impressive.”

The second instalment of gasworld’s helium-focused webinar series will take place next Friday (23rd October) at 2.30pm BST. For more information and to register for free, click here.