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  • New Helium Plant to be Built
Dec 2010
LEHIGH VALLEY, Pa., Dec. 1, 2010 — Matheson, a member of the Taiyo Nippon Sanso Corp. (TNSC) group, and Air Products have announced that construction has begun on a jointly owned liquid helium production plant near Big Piney, Wyo. Designed to produce 200 million standard cubic feet per year at startup, with expectations for future expansion to 400 million standard cubic feet per year, the plant would process crude helium produced by a natural gas processing facility operated by Cimarex Energy Co.

The Cimarex facility, currently under construction, will process natural gas from the Riley Ridge Field in Wyoming, one of the largest helium-rich natural gas fields in the US. Riley Ridge is believed to contain sufficient helium reserves to support production for decades. Production is expected to begin in 2011.

Air Products, the global leader in helium production, has pioneered many of the helium extraction, production, distribution and storage technologies used in the industry today. Air Products maintains the world’s largest helium production and distribution system and operates numerous facilities around the world.

“The Big Piney plant will further diversify our helium source portfolio and enhance our ability to reliably serve our customer base,” said John Van Sloun, general manager of worldwide helium at Air Products. “We are excited to be involved with this project as a direct participant because it will enable us to provide high on-stream operations and reliable supply.”

Matheson manages the global helium business of TNSC under the name Matheson Global Helium. TNSC is the leading helium supplier in Japan, and it is one of only five major industrial gas companies in the world with direct access to helium sources.

“The helium produced from the Big Piney Plant will help to solidify Matheson’s helium supply for the long term and will give us the opportunity to grow our business. We are pleased that our newest source will be located in Wyoming, close to our existing supply from ExxonMobil, which will enable us to have a simple, efficient and reliable supply chain to serve our customers located in the US and Asian markets,” said Phil Kornbluth, executive vice president, international and helium, for Matheson.

Helium, especially highly purified versions, is increasingly in demand globally and, because of a convergence of factors, has been in short supply in recent years. It is useful in high-tech applications such as microchip and flat panel display manufacturing, and as a coolant for magnets in particle accelerators, such as the Large Hadron Collider, and fiber optics manufacturing. This protective gas can be used for welding and for growing silicon and germanium crystals. Helium becomes liquid at 4.2 K, a temperature colder than is found in the natural world.

For an overview on helium and photonics, also see: Helium: Up, Up and Away?

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