Noble Gas Shortages, Recovery and Emerging Markets

The global specialty gases industry has gone through quite a few trials and tribulations in recent months. The industry continues to come under increasing pressure, from ongoing concerns over helium production to a potential electronics chip crisis caused by a rare gas shortage following the Russian-Ukrainian war.
In Gas World’s latest webinar, “Specialty Gas Spotlight,” industry experts from leading companies Electrofluoro Carbons (EFC) and Weldcoa answer questions about the challenges facing specialty gases today.

Ukraine is the world’s largest supplier of noble gases, including neon, krypton and xenon. Globally, the country supplies about 70% of the world’s neon gas and 40% of the world’s krypton gas. Ukraine also supplies 90 percent of the high-purity semiconductor-grade neon gas used in the production of chips used by U.S. industry, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Amid widespread use throughout the electronic chip supply chain, continued shortages of noble gases could dramatically impact the production of technologies embedded in semiconductors, including vehicles, computers, military systems and medical equipment.

Matt Adams, executive vice president of gas supplier Electronic Fluorocarbons, revealed that the rare gas industry, particularly xenon and krypton, is under “enormous” pressure. “At the material level, the volume available has a serious impact on the industry,” explains Adams.

Demand continues unabated as supply continues to be more constrained. With the satellite sector accounting for the largest share of the global xenon market, increased investment in satellite and satellite propulsion and related technologies continues to disrupt the currently volatile industry.

“When you launch a billion-dollar satellite, you can’t give up on the lack of xenon, so that means you have to have it,” Adams said. This has put additional pricing pressure on materials and we are seeing market price increases, so our customers are facing challenges. To meet these challenges, EFC continues to invest in the purification, distillation and additional production of noble gases at its Hatfield, Pennsylvania facility.

When it comes to increasing investment in noble gases, the question arises: how? The scarcity of noble gases means that production challenges abound. The complexity of its supply chain means that impactful changes can take years, Adams explained: “Even if you’re fully committed to investing, it can take years from when you decide to invest to when it actually gets you a product. “In those years when companies are investing, it’s common to see price volatility that can deter potential investors, and from that perspective, Adams believes that while the industry is investing, it needs more because of the increased exposure to rare gases.” Demand will only rise.

Recovery and Recycling

By recovering and recycling gas, companies can save costs and production time. Recycling and recycling often become “hot topics” when gas costs are high, with high reliance on current pricing. As the market stabilized and prices returned to historical levels, the recovery momentum began to wane.

That could change due to concerns about shortages and environmental factors.

“Customers are starting to focus more on recycling and recycling,” Adams revealed. “They want to know they have supply security. The pandemic has really been an eye-opener for end users, and now they’re looking at how we can make sustainable investments to make sure we have the materials we need.” EFC did what it could, visiting two satellite companies, and recovered the gas from the thrusters directly on the launch pad. Most thrusters use xenon gas, which is chemically inert, colorless, odorless and tasteless. Adams said he thinks this trend will continue, adding that the drivers behind recycling revolve around obtaining materials and having robust business continuity plans, two of the main reasons for the investment.

Emerging Markets

Unlike new applications in new markets, the gas market has always tended to use old products for new applications. “For example, we’re seeing R&D facilities using carbon dioxide in production and R&D work, something you wouldn’t have thought of years ago,” Adams said.

“High-purity is starting to have real demand in the market as a tool. I think most of the growth in the Americas will come from niche markets in the markets we currently serve.” This growth may be evident in technologies such as chips, where Of these technologies, technology continues to evolve and become smaller. If demand for new materials grows, the industry is likely to see materials traditionally sold into the field become more sought-after.

Echoing Adams’ view that emerging markets are likely to be largely contained within existing industry niches, Weldcoa field technician and customer support specialist Kevin Klotz said the company has seen a greater shift in aerospace products that are increasingly privatized. multi-demand sector.

“Everything from gas mixtures to anything that I would never consider to be close to specialty gases; but superfluids that use carbon dioxide as energy transfer in nuclear facilities or high-end aerospace processing applications.” The industry of products is diversifying with changes in technology and emerging technologies, such as energy production, energy storage, etc.” “So, where our world already exists, a lot of new and exciting things are happening,” Klotz added.

Post time: Jul-12-2022