The ongoing global helium shortages are well documented, as are the effects of this on the supply chain and a number of key end-user applications.

In Japan, this is inducing a variety of product strategies in the gas analysis market and even hampering the operational ratio of gas chromatography (GC) operations, reports The Gas Review (TGR).

Something of a strategy war appears to have been unfolding in the country’s laboratories and analyser markets, with contrasting product approaches becoming an issue among GC users.

On the one hand, it is reported that the US GC manufacturer Agilent Technologies is responding to the shortage of helium with alternative products like the Agilent 7890B, a new GC capable of switching to a hydrogen-based carrier gas, and is keen to expand its sales in the Japanese market through its local branch Agilent Technologies (Japan).

On the other hand, however, TGR notes that Japanese GC manufacturers are ‘hitting back’ with their own efforts to cope with GCs using traditional helium carrier gas.

Shimadzu for example, which holds the largest share of the gas analysis equipment market in Japan, has come out with measures to reduce helium consumption, including a new product based upon a newly developed barrier discharge ionisation detector (BID) called the Tracera. Using BID, the sensitivity is over 100 times that of the thermal conductivity detector (TCD) and over twice that of the hydrogen flame ionisation detector (FID).

All of this comes against a backdrop of some GC users in the laboratory switching their carrier gas over to hydrogen/nitrogen. This was a move further strengthened in January when the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry sent out a notice to health offices in the prefecture assuring that it would be quite alright to switch carrier gas over to hydrogen for GCs used for food analysis.

The shortage of helium for GC applications is thought to be so prominent in Japan that users are tending to reduce the daily analysis frequency, with the GC operational ratio thought to be down from 80% to 50%.