Chemistry

A look at the Helium Industry in Russia



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With an anticipated Helium shortage and over one third of global reserves, it's little wonder that the world is looking to Russia. The Russians may extract some nine million cubic kilometers of helium annually but the world's least reactive element is still rare on earth itself. The Russians have plans however; plans that will transform the not just its own industry but the way Helium is sourced globally.

Currently Russian helium extraction is centered on the Orenburg plant, a massive installation owned by Gazprom. However plans are underway to tap into the vast gas field of Kovykta in Siberia where some 40 to 50 of Russia's enormous reserves are said to be located. This would be a lucrative undertaking for Russia because there is an eager market in the form of China and Asia-Pacific for Helium sourced in this region. It is not anticipated, however, that this field will be ready for production until at least 2015 and international industry is crying out for affordable helium right now.

If 2015 seems some way off, it doesn't seem to be deterring the Russians. In fact, there is a plan afoot for Russia to be producing at least 40 per cent of the helium extracted globally by 2030.So how does Russia intend to do this? Quite simply, by looking to space.
The fact is that while helium is abundant in the universe, it's actually rather rare on earth. The answer, according to the Russians is to use the huge amounts of helium in the atmosphere instead. The Energia Rocket and Space Corporation - the body that oversees the space vehicles industry in Russia - states that there are between one million and five hundred million tons of Helium on the moon and it is proposed that the Russians will by 2015 have built a permanent base on the moon which will be used for transport and, some five years later, a plant to carry out extraction from the super-abundant helium-3.

Whether this actually comes off is debatable; critics say that the ambitious claims may just be a way of using private enterprise to finance further space research and travel. In reality the most likely expansion is to concern the exploitation of Srednebotuobinskoye, Verkhnevilyuchanskoye and Tas-Yuryakhskoye deposits also situated in the far east of Russia.

With the United States looking to reduce helium production but international industry still heavily reliant with no signs of demand abating, Russia will likely find herself in a strong position.

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