For being the second most abundant element in the Universe, helium is becoming harder and harder to obtain. Helium is widely utilized in industry and is used in MRI scanners, nuclear power plants, the Large Hadron Collider, and, of course, welding.
Helium has remained popular in the welding world as a shielding gas due to its high thermal conductivity. Though widely used, there has been 50% increase in price of helium since the year 2000, a spike which has been fueled by a helium shortage. With the prices of helium in a constant flux, the welding industry is looking for alternatives.
How It All Happened
Traditionally, the United States has been the leading supplier of helium worldwide but production has declined heavily in the last 20 years. The U.S. Helium Federal Reserve, which provides 35% of the world’s helium, is set to close in September 2021. The closure will decrease helium production and it is predicted to increase the strain on the helium market.
The US government has tried to privatize the helium gas supply by closing the reservoir but due to the lack of response from private companies, it only succeeded in contributing to the shortage. When coupled with the fact that there simply aren’t many helium sources left in the world, a dire shortage is looming.
Even with a recent massive helium reservoir recently discovered in Tanzania last month, at the current consumption levels of helium (which is expected to remain on the rise), the supply is expected to run out in 7 years. The dwindling supply and the competition of other industries means that the welding industry must find alternatives
How Does this Affect the Welding Industry?
It’s evident that the industry must adapt to the shortage of helium but in many cases, the gas is hard to replace. For example, hydrogen can be used quite well for welding stainless steel but underperforms when welding aluminum.
A common solution is creating blends that have a lower percentage of helium or eliminate the gas altogether by combining two different gases like argon and nitrogen for the same effect. These mixed gases could mean the difference in a future with no helium. If the use of helium is unavoidable, it is best to use high quality equipment to ensure that the helium is used in the most efficient way.
At Sutton Garten, we strive to satisfy the needs of our customers. Whether those needs include helium, helium gas alternatives, or the latest in high-quality welding equipment and technology, we have it covered.