“Helium Shortage 3.0 will likely ease in the second half of 2020, but that does not mean it’s going away anytime soon – in fact it will remain until 2021.” [www.gasworld.com]
During his closing keynote speech at gasworld’s MENA Industrial Gases Conference 2019 in Dubai, Phil Kornbluth, President of Kornbluth Helium Consulting, provided an update on the global helium business today and the status of its latest market imbalance, Helium Shortage 3.0.
“The shortage should ease a little during the second half of 2020,” he explained while pointing out that “ease doesn’t mean go away. It just means it won’t be quite so severe.”
There is a positive note in the key takeaways from Phil Kornbluth regarding helium availability, at least for the current year, however, we cannot forget the heavy implication of the increased cost of helium and much longer delivery times still impacting semiconductor and medical device industries, as well as analytical laboratories, especially in countries fully relying on imports for helium, like Korea.
For gas chromatographers, helium represents the most-used carrier gas for many applications. Within the gases which can be used as a mobile phase in a capillary GC or GC-MS, helium is offering the highest inertness combined with high diffusivity, a measure of the diffusion speed of a solute vapor in a given gas. The diffusion speed of the solute in the carrier gas determines the speed of the gas chromatographic process, allowing optimum higher flow rates and making the analysis time acceptable.
The shortage of helium is a recurrent problem many laboratories have faced for a few years now and need to overcome.
A possible alternative carrier gas in a capillary GC system is hydrogen, due to its diffusivity comparable with helium. Hydrogen is actually even preferable to helium because its viscosity is about half, permitting lower inlet pressure for a given gas velocity. Since the lower is the inlet pressure and the higher is the optimum gas velocity, hydrogen permits to maintain the optimum separation efficiency at higher flow rates, providing shorter analysis time. Additionally, the availability of hydrogen generators provides a safe, steady, and renewable supply of hydrogen for proper instrument operation.
So, why are laboratories not simply getting rid of helium in favor of hydrogen?
Moving from helium to hydrogen to run GC and GC-MS systems is the approach many laboratories are taking with the benefits of faster analyses and reduced cost of operation.
Nevertheless, there are still two important arguments against the use of hydrogen: one concerns safety and the other is related to many existing validated methods based on helium which must be re-optimized and re-validated in the case of swapping carrier gas.
Like what you are learning?
Modern technology allows laboratories that need to maintain helium as a carrier gas, to significantly reduce the helium consumption, alleviating the pain of costs and supply shortage.
The Thermo Scientific™ iConnect Helium Saver Split Splitless (SSL) injector module (pictured on the right, U.S. Patent 8,371,152) is a proprietary technological innovation available on the Thermo Scientific™ Trace™ 1300 series GC, offering helium gas-saving while keeping the existing validated analytical methods.
Unlike other gas-saving solutions, the Helium Saver SSL Module is always ready and works while your instrument is running, as well as when it is idle, providing real 24/7 savings operation.
How much helium can I save?
Considering that the majority of the carrier gas consumption is due to splitting the sample during the injection and keeping the injector purged during the analysis, think about how much helium you can save if those operations are performed with nitrogen, feeding helium only for the limited flow through the capillary column for the separation process. Learn more about how the Helium Saver SSL works by watching this video.
If you are wondering how much helium you can save, just consider that a cylinder of helium can last from 3.5 to 14 years, depending on how continuously the GC or GC-MS is used. Try the Helium Saver Calculator to discover how much you can save based on your method and sample-throughput.
Thanks to the Trace 1300 GC modular design, the iConnect Helium Saver is a plug and play module, easily installable by the user at any time. Saving helium has never been easier and more effective while keeping your methods intact, validation-effective, and regulation-compliant.
- AN 10441 – Helium conservation in volatile organic compound analysis using U.S. EPA Method 8260
- AN 10522 – Optimized GC-MS solution for semivolatiles (SVOC) analysis in environmental samples in compliance with the U.S. EPA Method 8270D
- PN 10410 – Helium Carrier Gas Conserving Inlet for Gas Chromatography