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helium molecules
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How Chromatographers Are Avoiding the Latest Helium Shortage

Parker Balston


Jack Mahan headshot

photo provided by Parker

Jack Mahan is the North American Sales Manager, Analytical Gas Systems for the IGFG Division of Parker Hannifin, and has over 30 years of experience with life sciences equipment like LCMS, GC, GCMS, NMR, FTIR & TOC.

Q: Please tell us about your career journey and what drives you. 

A: I’ve spent my entire career with this business and absolutely love the laboratory space. After 33 years, I am still excited to see what the day brings—learning and seeing improvements in health, finding cures, and solving crimes, as well as helping customers, reducing our carbon footprint, and making new friends and colleagues. There is so much going on in the world today that affects our industry. Helium has taken a direct hit, and the results have been devastating to many labs.

Q: Can you tell us more about these supply challenges? 

A: This “helium shortage 4.0” is just as its name implies— another round of helium shortages that’s having a direct impact on the chromatography market. This time the causes seem to be a perfect storm: global economic uncertainty, rising costs, conflicts in main supply countries, supply chain pressures, maintenance shutdowns at the larger supplier plants, and the challenge of managing the COVID impact. The resulting impact to chromatographers has been a dramatic disruption in availability, rationing shipments, and a sizeable spike in their price to procure.

Q: Is hydrogen generation really an alternate for GC-FID carrier gas applications, and is it safe? 

A: Hydrogen is ideal as it’s a much faster gas than helium, which means decreased sample run times and a more productive instrument. Generating hydrogen is far safer than switching to hydrogen cylinders, which require safety closets, secure areas, and long runs of stainless-steel piping. In addition, having a 2000psi+ container of 6,500 liters of hydrogen is never favored by EH&S teams. Generators never store more than 500cc of gas, stay below 175 psi, and can be located next to the instruments.

Q: Is it difficult to switch from helium to hydrogen? 

A: It’s incredibly simple. The GC does most of the work— just tell your instrument you’ve switched! Keep all other settings the same for a nearly identical chromatogram. But double the linear velocity to get the same separation in about half the time or use the method translator to get the fastest conditions while still maintaining good resolution.

Q: Can you tell us more about how Parker has innovated in gas generators? 

A: Our innovation producing hydrogen from a deionized water source and small electric current is remarkable. We incorporate industry-leading proton exchange membrane cell technology to separate hydrogen from water and then use a palladium purifier to remove trace oxygen, so it is very pure. 

State-of-the-art software allows users to monitor activity including flow rates, pressures, purity, water quality, and service schedules, and contains several internal safety controls. Any downstream leak will cause the system to shut down and alert the operator. We’re also launching a new “ChromGas” series of hydrogen generators, based on customer feedback, with an all-new user interface. 

Our technology is the industry gold standard and we’re solving supply chain challenges—eliminating dependence on outside gas supplies, assuring interruption free operations, circumventing gas cost increases, improving safety, and streamlining the lab operation.

For more information on Parker Hydrogen Systems, visit www.parker.com/labgas.