Air Liquide has just commissioned a large helium storage facility in Gronau-Epe in the North Rhine-Westphalia region, 120 km from Düsseldorf, Germany. This initiative will allow Air Liquide, leader of the helium worldwide market since the Airgas acquisition, to better answer its customers' needs for a reliable and predictable helium supply.
The key challenge in helium supply is to meet customer on-time requirements, independently of the reliability of production sources, by ensuring an optimum transport lead-time to customers, while avoiding losses due to helium warm-up which can occur during transport. Air Liquide's new storage solution addresses that challenge, by offering its customers a service which secures their helium supply.
This new helium storage facility is a world premiere. Pure helium is stored at 1,300 meters underground in significant volume, in a salt reservoir managed by Air Liquide, using natural brine to adjust the storage volume. The project has been timely executed, notably thanks to a close cooperation with the North Rhine - Westphalia Mining Authorities.
Air Liquide owns the right to use the cavity, operates the facility and is able to store in Gronau-Epe more than one year of its helium sourcing. Helium being an inert, non-inflammable gas present in very small quantity in the air, the storage is safe and environmentally neutral.
Air Liquide thus provides a reliable and complete helium offer, with strategic sources, global logistics and complete customer installations. Its helium logistics currently encompasses one of the largest helium ISO container fleets, each container transporting helium at -269°C - close to absolute zero - with a fully digitalized piloting by dedicated teams in the USA, Europe, Middle-East and Asia.
François Darchis, Senior Vice-President and member of the Air Liquide Group Executive Committee, supervising Innovation, said: 'By leveraging its high technologies and its engineering capabilities, Air Liquide is providing its customers with a unique reliable helium supply chain, which takes into account their new usages. This initiative is an illustration of the Group's pioneering spirit and is fully part of our customer-centric transformation strategy.'
Helium is a colorless, odorless, non-flammable, inert gas, present in the air in very small quantity, but in larger quantity in natural gas and CO fields where it is mainly extracted from. Helium is used in numerous industrial sectors, including medical equipment (MRI), electronics, aerospace engineering, fiber optics, automobiles, metallurgy, airship lifting and breathing mixtures (deep diving, for example).
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Air Liquide Maritime, part of Global Markets & Technologies WBU, develops gas usages by offshore oil and gas platforms, offshore wind turbines, and cryogenic transportation by sea of high value-added molecules, such as helium. Air Liquide is present along the entire supply chain, from extraction with the largest helium extraction unit in Qatar, to worldwide maritime transport and distribution. Its fleet of more than 300 containers covering the entire world allows transporting effectively high value-added molecules, such as helium at temperatures, close to absolute zero. Its containers rely on Air Liquide's expertise in cryogenic and digital technologies and ensure a secure and reliable supply.