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Air Liquide strengthens its presence in the helium market

This July, Air Liquide started producing liquefied helium from the world’s largest helium purification and liquefaction plant in Qatar. Jean-Baptiste Ripart, Chairman of Air Liquide Helium Services, tells us more about this rare gas.

Three questions to Jean-Baptiste Ripart, Chairman of Air Liquide Helium Services

What is the growth potential of the helium market?
The helium market is currently growing at around 4% per year. Its unique properties make this gas essential in fast-growing sectors such as medical imaging, optical fibers, semiconductors, space and welding. It is also mixed with oxygen in the dive cylinders used by professional divers working on deep sea platforms.

What is Air Liquide’s strategy in this market?
In responding to increasing demand from its customers, accessing new sources of helium is the priority for Air Liquide. The fact is that helium is in short supply, and is usually extracted from natural gas using a complex process. There are currently only around ten sources of helium worldwide. Over the last ten years, the Group has increased its capacity by consolidating and building strategic partnerships in natural gas producing countries, such as the USA, Algeria, Qatar and Russia.

What are the challenges for the plant opened in Qatar?
Air Liquide has designed, installed and commissioned a helium purification and liquefaction plant for local producer RasGas. Constructed on the Ras Laffan site in Qatar, alongside another production unit commissioned in 2003 with the same partner, this new plant is the largest of its kind in the world. Together, the two plants will produce 58 million m3 of helium every year, which is equivalent to one-fifth of global production in 2012. Half of the production will be commercialized directly by Air Liquide. This operation will help to position the Group as one of the main players in the worldwide helium market.

Learn more about helium from the Air Liquide Gas Encyclopedia online and on ipad

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