Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Qatar: Helium shortage looms

The helium shortage is always coming, to date we don't have many substitutes for the element, but the arrival of the crisis keeps getting delayed.
From Chemical & Engineering News web date 22.6.17:

 This Air Liquide helium liquefier, shown under construction, is now idle in Qatar.
Qatar blockade cuts 30% of global supply and threatens price increases for scientific instrument users
he blockade of Qatar that started on June 5 has shut down the source of 30% of the world’s helium, threatening another round of shortages and price increases for scientific instrument users.

Helium is used to cool nuclear magnetic resonance magnets and as a carrier gas for gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. The element is also used in medical imaging and electronics manufacturing, as well as to float dirigibles.

Supply limitations and maintenance projects in the U.S. and overseas led to a quadrupling of helium prices and even scientific instrument shutdowns between 2011 and 2013. Some helium users may be better positioned to cope this time because they installed recycling equipment during the most recent shortage.

Qatar halted helium production after the blockade severed helium’s main route out of the country: by truck through Saudi Arabia to the Port of Jebel Ali in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia and several other Middle Eastern countries initiated the blockade when they cut diplomatic ties over Qatar’s support of extremist Islamic groups and ties to Iran.

Shipments take about a month to arrive at their destination, points out Phil Kornbluth, a consultant who previously ran Matheson Tri-Gas’s helium operations.

That buffer of helium in transit, along with helium that left Qatar’s Port of Hamad on June 19, means customers may start to feel the blockade’s effects in July, Kornbluth says....MORE
We've been tracking the helium biz for a while.
Helium prices balloon as supplies run out
Every couple years we run a story similar to this. Because of the physics and chemistry helium is one of the few irreplaceable elements. But...and that's a big but...if you want to make the big money go for the isotope, Helium 3 rather than straight up He, you'll make a fortune in the electricity biz.
"... America’s Helium Crisis"
“Chances are you’ve heard little or nothing from your constituents about helium over the past 15 years,” 
-Walter Nelson, director of helium sourcing at Air Products and Chemicals

"GE, Siemens Plead with Lawmakers to Preserve Federal Helium Reserve"
April 2013
Chemistry: Periodically, We Tell Element Jokes
Helium Problem Solved
The article says helium is derived from natural gas. This is incorrect. As one of the noble gases He doesn't react with much of anything so more correctly helium can be found in proximity to methane.

Pedantic much? Yeah, that was me.