China is a step closer to reducing its dependency on the imported helium it uses to make hi-tech products, according to scientists working at a new facility in the northwest of the country, reported the South China Morning Post.
Nearly all helium used in China – whether to pump fuel for its huge Long March-5 rocket, to protect metal during welding, to produce laser light, or to create the super-clean environment needed to make computer chips – comes from elsewhere, mostly the United States or US-owned facilities in other countries. The new factory, which started operating on Tuesday last week, could be about to change that.
Located inside a natural gas processing plant in Yanchi county, Ningxia, it is the first facility in China that can produce helium at a commercial scale, according to a statement from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which designed and built it.
Scientists working on the project expect the annual output to reach 20 tonnes, in the form of liquid helium. That is not much compared to the massive amount China uses every year – more than 4,300 tonnes – but the cost of the plant was low, at RMB 30 million to 50 RMB million ($4.3 million to $7.1 million). It means hundreds of similar facilities could potentially be built in China, putting self-reliance in reach.