Helium One – Helium Rising

Helium may turn out to be one of the most valuable resources of this century. Helium One is looking to produce it without exposure to fossil fuels.

Helium One is developing a world-class helium prospect in Tanzania. The company holds 4,512 square kilometres of exploration licences in the highly prospective helium provinces of Tanzania. The company possesses 100% of these licences and has exclusive rights to develop the assets. The asset base has the potential to be a highly significant globally strategic unique high-grade primary helium project with long-term prospects for the market. And it couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

“Helium is one of the unsung commodities of the communication age,” explains David Minchin, Helium One’s CEO. “It’s the backbone of a lot of high-tech applications and is used in a range of different high-value end-usage technology. It’s needed everywhere from welding to quantum computing. It is used to cool the magnets in MRI scanners, a valuable component in medical diagnostic toolkits around the world. as well as in microchips and third-generation hard drives. Helium is needed to produce the pure atmosphere required to manufacture fibre optics and semi-conducting micro-chips as well as replacing the air gap in third-generation hard drives, reducing energy consumption in modern data centres.  It even finds its way into space exploration to purge fuel through the rocket. Helium has many high-value, high-spec, end uses, but it is an expensive commodity with no viable substitutes.”

This is why Helium One’s resource in Tanzania represents a unique opportunity as the largest primary helium project in the world. Typically, Helium production is associated with hydrocarbons, with 95% of the world’s helium supply being sourced at a low grade as a by-product from hydrocarbon production. Producing 1,000 litres of helium from Qatar’s North Field requires the production of 2.5 million litres of hydrocarbon, which is not sustainable. Helium One focuses on primary helium production associated with a nitrogen carrier gas and requires no exposure to greenhouse gasses.

“As we transition from a carbon economy to a greener one, we will need alternative sources of helium,” Minchin points out. “Helium is bubbling up at surface at our projects in Tanzania at up to 10.6% He, this is 50 to 100 times higher grade than other resources currently in production. It is the largest and highest-grade helium project in the world, with potentially strategic implications for global supply – and does not involve hydrocarbons.”

The Journey to Production

The journey to bring that resource to production, whilst being a long one has definitely started in earnest.

“We’ve been here in Tanzania since 2015, managing the resource for five years.  Our listing on AIM last December brought new capital into the project and a new impetus to support a very aggressive exploration campaign,” Minchin explains. “There’s always pressure to deliver and keep to your schedules, so far we’ve been able to run everything on time.  We’ve identified a series of ‘must drill’ targets and will begin exploration drilling in early June.”

While it is an ambitious project, Minchin confesses the biggest challenges are the self-imposed deadlines Helium One has set itself to reach production promptly. When it comes to meeting those deadlines, Helium One has one solution.

“Lots of hard work!” Minchin laughs. “We have a fantastic team; everyone knows their responsibility and is performing to the best of their ability. It’s a pleasure to work with this expert team of geologists. It’s a small group, it’s fun and we’re all working 12-hour days to make sure it lands.”

That hard work hasn’t been restricted to the company itself, however. Minchin also cites the invaluable help Helium One has received from its contractors.

“Africa Geographical Services have been our contractor for the infill 2D seismic campaign,” Minchin points out. “They’ve performed very well and did a fantastic job providing high-quality data which has substantially de-risked our drilling campaign. They’ve been flexible, they’ve been efficient, it’s a testament to the way they’re operating. The professionalism has been excellent.”

Midak Engineering is another firm Minchin singles out for praise.

“Midak has been our contracted engineer working on the design of the drill holes, particularly with sourcing equipment and liaising with subcontractors, and I’m really pleased to have them in our team,” Minchin says. “They have developed an innovative approach to combining oil and gas technology to the low-cost, slimline, mineral-rig exploration drilling, with designs that not only bring down costs but also reduce risk.”

Minchin also recognises the crucial role Helium One’s own people have played.

“Our own people have been imperative to our success,” he says.

Helium One recruits local workers and consults with local communities so that it can operate in a way that delivers lasting benefits to the Songwe Region where it works. It has also built up a valuable reservoir of expertise.

“We have expanded our team making use of the professional network we have built through the 160 years of experience among the six members of the board.” Explains Minchin. “Each member of the board has a specific skill set to contribute to the team and we know a lot of people.”

Right now, that broad skill set and expertise are more important to Helium One than ever, as the company is heading towards a huge period of transition.

“We’re an exploration company but in six months we’re going to be a development company working on a globally strategic project,” Minchin points out. “We’re building the world’s largest helium project and have to grow rapidly to seize this opportunity.  We want to make sure we have the right contacts and the right people to achieve this goal.”

It is a pivotal moment for Helium One.

“A lot hinges on the next three-to-four months of our exploration campaign. With exploration drilling commencing in June we will be moving directly from exploration drilling into appraisal drilling in Q4, keeping equipment in the field to maintain momentum,” Minchin tells us. “Leading to us commencing engineering work, leading into a feasibility study and making mining licence applications for 2022. Then we aim to be commencing production by the end of 2023.”

The demand for helium is growing all the time and the need for a new supply is now greater than ever.

*this article is based on an interview from May 2021.

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