Pulsar Helium highlights major global helium projects

Despite being the second most abundant element in the universe, helium is relatively scarce on our planet. As global helium supplies face uncertainty, the emergence of pioneering companies like Pulsar Helium (Pulsar) brings hope for the helium-dependent industries. With innovative technologies and a commitment to harnessing helium’s potential, Pulsar is poised to make a significant impact in the world of primary helium production, ensuring a stable supply for critical applications.

As part of gasworld’s latest ‘In Conversation with…’ series of webinars, Minnesota-based Pulsar Helium stepped into the spotlight, sitting down with Global Content Director Rob Cockerill and Broadcast Journalist Tom Dee to unravel the intricacies of the helium industry. 

Discussion delved into Pulsar Helium’s ground-breaking developments, including the 10.5% helium flow from their upcoming appraisal well in Minnesota. The company also revealed its objectives and timing for this pivotal project, traced their corporate history, introduced the key individuals behind the scenes, examined the overview and activities at the Tunu Project in Greenland, and scrutinised its long-term objectives. 

With a keen focus on primary helium, where the gas is not a by-product of hydrocarbons, Pulsar was established in 2022 by President and CEO Thomas Abraham-Jones and Chairman Neil Herbert.

Located in Minnesota, USA, the company’s flagship Topaz Project (Topaz) is home to one of the world’s highest-content helium occurrences, having been drilled and flowing 10.5% helium, with only trace hydrocarbons present.

“When we were first introduced to this project, it made a lot of sense geologically,” said Abraham-James, who has a background in geology. “There was no surprise that there was helium there, however it had never been noted before that there was helium in this state in the USA.”

From a hydrocarbon perspective, the prospects were not promising. “If you look at the US Geological Survey, there’s one long paragraph basically saying ‘don’t go there’,” he added.

The background of the project goes back to another company that was there exploring nickel and platinum in the area where Topaz is located – a location that happens to have the ideal geology for nickel and copper.

As the company was drilling an exploration hole, the workers encountered gas and vacated the rig after taking samples.

Following a full chemical analysis at two different laboratories, one at the University of Toronto, the results came back showing that the gas was not combustible and that the gas contained 10.5% helium, which was “one of the highest grade helium discoveries in history,” revealed Abraham-James.

The CEO was introduced to the project by an individual who was present at the drill rig at the time and saw it as an opportunity to harness the potential of the site.

The site presented all the necessary ingredients to fulfil licensing requirements, including source rock, a liberation mechanism and a heat source to try to drive helium from traps.

Having acquired the relevant licences and rights, Pulsar delved into the history of the drilling that had previously occurred in the region, resulting in the discovery of another site about 180km to the southwest of Topaz with 2% helium.

“So the only two wells in history in Minnesota that were analysed for helium came back with 2% and 10.5%, which is a tremendous strike rate.”

The Tunu Project

Located in Greenland, Pulsar’s Tunu Project originates in Abraham-James’ previous experience in exploring the country for hydraulic minerals.

Although there are few places in the world where primary helium can be found, the company discovered that Greenland ticked all the boxes from a geological perspective.

“We went a couple of years ago and then took gas samples and we found, hey presto, the model was correct that there was primary helium coming out in thermal spring, much like Tanzania.”

Its location also provided Pulsar with export opportunities to the European Union, which imports 95% of its helium.

The company’s Executive Chair and Director, Neil Herbert, revealed that Greenland also presents potential for hydrogen.

“We’re very much focused primarily on the US project because it’s so advanced, but there’s opportunity in Greenland, it’s a vast area and the geology that exists there is prospective not just for helium, but also for hydrogen,” he explained.

Challenging environments

Perhaps surprisingly, Abraham-James confided that – having worked in both Minnesota and Greenland – the coldest temperature he had experienced was actually in Minnesota.

Although the temperature may not present as many challenges in Greenland, there are persistent issues relating to the development of infrastructure.

Despite the presence of a nearby airport which is serviced by container vessels coming into the country’s east coast ports, the country’s geography and the size of the licensing area is forcing the company to rapidly scale.

“For a project to work in Greenland, you’ve got to have scale,” said Abraham-James. “It has to be something that really stands out. This is an area just shy of 3000m2 that we’ve had licensed and throughout that licence area, we’ve got the right science for helium.”

On top of that, he added that the company is the one that has to really make it work.

“There’s not going to be a fairy godmother that comes along to suddenly put in highways and electricity and things like that.”

This need for infrastructure spurred Pulsar into exploring the geothermal potential of the site, leading it to discussions with geothermal energy experts in Iceland.

By developing this geothermal potential, the company could generate a reliable and clean source of electricity.

“We’re going down the path of geothermal not just to be masters of our own fate and provide electricity, but also to do it responsibly in a country where climate change does have an incredibly large impact.”

In contrast, the company’s Minnesota site is equipped with a rich infrastructure and even located nearby major helium consumers in industries such as semiconductor manufacturers and gas distribution.

Having visited the site just a week prior, Abraham-James was ‘blown away’ by the number of people who expressed an interest in the company’s product.

Elaborating on the site’s highly developed infrastructure, he said, “We’ve got a sealed road next to us, we’ve got hydroelectric power right near our project, we’ve got a 150 year old mining history and the largest iron ore mines North America five kilometres away from our project. You name it, it’s there.”

Going forward

Earlier this month Pulsar achieved a major milestone with its listing on the Toronto Stock Exchange, making it the only IPO on the TSX B thus far for 2023.

Harnessing the fundraising that came with its listing achievement, the company aims to drill the appraisal well in Minnesota, located just 20 metres away from the existing discovery at Topaz.

With the company currently at a ‘very advanced stage’ in terms of permitting and rig selection, Abraham-James revealed that Pulsar will be announcing the exact date of drilling and the rigs that will be used in the ‘very near future’.

Once having analysed pressures, flow rates and measured the size of the reservoir, the company will undertake resource recalculation to assess the potential for reserves before then switching its news flow to focus on prospective economics, a realistic production scenario and whether additional holes may need to be drilled.

Admitting that Pulsar is playing its cards close to its chest at the moment, Abraham-James said that, as soon as the hole is drilled and the company has all of the necessary data, things will begin to move ‘very rapidly’.

“In the short term, it looks like certainly going from that appraisal well towards the development scenario, that’s quite likely. And then in the meantime, with our project in Greenland, we keep that one moving and it won’t take too much work to come up with a prospective resource for that project.”

“We’ve got an awful lot to do and we’ve got the team to do it, but, ultimately, as a company, we want to get that production facility up and running,” he added.

The ‘primary’ nature of the project may help this happen much faster than hydrocarbon projects.

“What is nice about a primary helium project is one, from the licensing perspective, it’s much easier for the authorities to permit than a hydrocarbons project, and the size of the plants required for an industrial gas plant is very small compared to anything that would require hydrocarbons,” said Herbert.

Helium Super Summit

Taking place between 30th Oct – 1st November 2023,gasworld’s Houston Helium Super Summit 2023 aims to tackle all aspects of the global helium industry, including discussion around sourcing, shipping and supplying, in addition to the ever-present topic of shortages.

Having confirmed the company’s attendance at the event, Abraham-James gave some parting thoughts on what his message for attendees will be at next month’s conference.

“There is no single message, but being a primary helium company is one component. Also, having one of the highest grades of helium in North America is another one.”

“I think that perhaps the key message is that it’s going to move rather fast. I think it’s going to be incredibly exciting. There’s no time like the present.”

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