Helium is more than just a lifting gas for blimps and balloons; it plays a crucial role in our human need for connection. The pandemic has forced people to transition to remote work, virtual education, and gatherings held via Zoom and FaceTime. So where exactly does helium come into play in each of these areas? Well, the ultra-light, ultra-cool gas is an essential support for the production of the semiconductor chips that make tablets, TVs, smartphones, and computers run.
The overall market for helium has remained consistent in the past ten years without many new industry opportunities to expand where the gas is being used. The last major market boom for the helium industry was technology.
Helium is one of the leading atmospheric gases used in the technology industry to manufacture fiber optic cables to run high-speed cable and Wi-Fi, improve storage capacities in computer hard drives, and to cool semiconductor chips used in smartphones, TVs, computers, tablets, and more. It is estimated that a single tank of helium gas can produce 10,000 hard drives, and according to Summit Source Funding, the revenue for semiconductor production in 2015 was $353 billion.
Heat transfer applications uses 9% of the worldwide helium production. Also used for cooling superconducting magnets in MRI machines, helium is used in various steps of the semiconductor production process for cooling, cleaning, and creating the ideal environment in vacuum chambers for chemical reactions to take place. The inert gas ensures that unwanted chemical reactions are prevented while controlling temperatures. Its cooling properties are essential for these applications, allowing the circuitry of silicon wafers to shrink to necessary dimensions.
Due to its high thermal conductivity, helium is able to repel heat away from surfaces faster than any other gas. With a very light molecular weight and small molecular compound, helium can squeeze into porous areas of various materials, making it perfect for the minuscule etchings of semiconductor chips. For an application so vital to the current state of the world, it is important to look at the helium market as a whole and how it effects the tech industry.
The pandemic has had an overall positive effect on the helium supply and demand, slowing shortage 3.0 to a halt much earlier than expected. The demand plummeted by 20 to 25 perfect last spring, which allowed for plants to have uninterrupted maintenance shutdowns. It is anticipated that the first half of 2021 will continue as a recovery period for helium shortage 3.0, while the second half will allow plants in Qatar and Russia to come online, stabilizing the market altogether.
Although the current shortage has subsided, it is always helpful to remain proactive when working with large quantities of helium. While hospitals using helium for semiconducting magnets in MRI machines may implement helium recovery to preserve the nonrenewable resource, and to curb the burden of inevitable shortages, semiconductor factories also have this option.
Rocky Mountain Air is familiar with the ups and downs of the helium market, and always makes an effort to provide customers with flawless dependability – from pricing, cryogenic tank consultation, auto deliveries, and more. RMA is dedicated to working behind the scenes with the industries that keep the world connected and partnering with ongoing innovations in technology.
Contact your local branch today in any one of our five states (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Nebraska) for any questions or if you would like to begin a partnership with us. We look forward to serving you with your helium applications!