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Space Race among Nations for Mining Helium-3 Proving Conducive

Helium-3 (He3) is a light, stable isotope of helium with two protons and one neutron, which has the potential to be used as a fuel in future nuclear fusion power plants. Helium-3 has significant use in homeland security, national security, medicine, industry, and science. The demand for helium-3 has been rising, since the rise in the number of terrorist attacks across the world. After September 11, 2001, the Federal government of the United States started stationing neutron detectors at the U.S. border to help secure the country against smuggled nuclear and radiological material. The continuous deployment of detecting equipment has created a heavy demand for the helium-3 market.

Helium-3 is popularly used in medical imaging techniques and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in clinical respiratory implications, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders, cystic fibrosis, radiation-induced lung damage, and various transplantation. This has resulted in the shrinking of the helium-3 stockpile and hence, there is a need for large quantities of helium-3, which is outstripping the current supply. Due to the severe need for He3, many governments have consequently indicated their plan to go to the Moon to deposit helium-3 as a fuel supply. Such plans are expected to be fruitful during the forecast period. These factors are expected to drive the helium-3 market during the forecast period.

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Increased He3 Applications Striving to Drive Helium-3 Market

Almost 80% of helium-3 is presently being used for security purposes worldwide. Other applications include cryogenics, quantum computing, neutron scattering facilities, oil & gas exploration, and other medical purposes. The increasing use of He3 has led to a shortage and hence, the financial, technical, and political potential of returning to the Moon for helium-3 is estimating to meet the global demand for energy and sensibly competitive options for meeting that demand. Currently, helium-3 is generated as a byproduct of the continuance of nuclear weapons, which obtain a supply of around 15 kg in a year. Naturally, helium-3 is emitted by the Sun within its solar winds. As our atmosphere prevents helium-3 from arriving on the Earth, researchers are now planning to explore space to fulfill the ongoing demand for the gas. However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the research and development due to limited work resources and stringent government regulations to stay at home.

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Helium-3 Mostly Extracted as Byproduct of Tritium

The rapid progression in medical science and growing use of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging (NMR) has made helium-3 a highly desirable tool for various medical purposes. Moreover, He3 used in balloons can decrease temperatures to almost absolute zero which produces non-radioactive medical lung imaging and identify neutrons radiating from hidden nuclear devices. Moreover, helium-3 is a part of a clean energy source that is non-toxic and non-corrosive gas, which can be easily administered and provides high-resolution imaging of the human body interior, particularly lungs.

The current supply of helium-3 is mostly derived from the U.S. and Russia. Other sources of helium-3 may present diverse terms of technical and policy challenges. Governments can expand the supply of helium-3, either from traditional sources or by promoting the development of new sources. In other terms, creating helium-3 from these sources may be ineffective on cost grounds. Until previous years, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has created tritium for use in nuclear warheads. The tritium decays into helium-3 and that is replaced to maintain warhead effectiveness. Helium-3 was extracted as a byproduct of sustaining the purity of the tritium supply.

Europe Plans to Extract Helium-3 from Moon

The rising applications of helium-3 in the medical, defense, and oil industries, and logging projects to investigate the permeability of reservoirs are anticipated to drive the global helium-3 market during the forecast period. Moreover, helium-3 is proven to be an important isotope in neutron detection instruments. It has a huge absorption cross-section for thermal neutron beams and utilized as a converter gas in neutron detectors. Moreover, helium-3 can be used as a fuel in nuclear fusion power plants. Another vital benefit of using helium-3 fuels is that the reaction results can be managed by electric and magnetic fields and consequently be utilized for direct energy reformation, which is far more efficient than thermal conversion.

In 2020, the global helium-3 market was dominated by the Asia Pacific, owing to the improvement in the defense industry and the rise in the manufacturing and practice of neutron detectors in various countries of the region. In addition, the helium-3 market in North America is expected to expand in the near future due to the presence of major manufacturers in the U.S., and the growing demand for helium-3 in military applications. Moreover, in Europe, nations have established various government programs to extract helium-3 from the Moon. The usage of helium-3 is increased making a scarcity of supply. Thus, the global helium-3 market is anticipated to reach ~US$ 800 Mn by 2031, expanding at a CAGR of ~9% during the forecast period.

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Analysts’ Overview

Helium-3, being one of the rarest isotopes, is making a remarkable and diverse spectrum of challenges, whether on the Moon, Mars, or some other distant outpost to fulfill the future demand across the globe. Until 2001, helium-3 production by the defenses program outstripped demand, and the program collected a stockpile. However, due to its growing applications in various industries, the helium-3 market is witnessing a scarcity across the world. In order to meet the demand for helium-3, researchers from various countries have developed the idea of a programmed mobile lunar machine that would dig the regolith to a depth of three meters and separate particles 50 micrometers in size electrostatically. As these particles contain the highest helium content, the objective to fulfill the rising demand of the helium-3 market can be accomplished.

Helium-3 Market: Overview

  • Helium-3, an isotope of helium, is a nonradioactive, nontoxic, and inert gas. A rare quantity of helium-3 is available on the earth. Helium-3 accounts for about 0.0001% of helium on earth. However, it is present in abundance on the moon. The sun has been emitting helium-3 as waste product since billions of years. Helium-3 is used in national security, medicine, research, and homeland security.
  • Helium-3 is produced through nuclear decay of tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. The most common source of production of helium-3 is the nuclear weapons program in the U.S.
  • Helium-3 is produced as a byproduct of maintenance of nuclear weapons and is then accumulated in a stockpile, from which supplies are either transferred directly to other agencies or sold publicly at auctions
  • According to Transparency Market Research’s latest research report on the global helium-3 market for the historical year 2020 and the forecast period 2021 to 2031, rise in usage of helium-3 in nuclear detectors used in defense application is a key factor that is expected to boost the global helium-3 market during the forecast period
  • In terms of revenue, the global helium-3 market is estimated to reach ~US$ 800 Mn by 2031, expanding at a CAGR of ~9% during the forecast period

Rise in Usage of Helium-3 in Nuclear Detectors: Key Driver

  • Rise in investment in well logging activities to analyze porosity and permeability of reservoirs is anticipated to propel the global helium-3 market in the near future, as neutron detector is used in well logging activities
  • Led by recent advancements in medical technology, helium-3 has become a highly desirable tool for Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging (NMR). Hyper polarized helium-3 is a stable nontoxic isotope that is easily administered and gives very high resolutions of the interior of the human body, specifically the lungs.
  • Helium offers cryogenic properties. Scientists use a mixture of helium-4 and helium-3 to achieve temperatures just a few thousandths of a degree above absolute zero. At temperatures below 2.5 millikelvin, helium-3 becomes superfluid. This property of helium is propelling its demand across the globe.
  • Implementation of stringent government regulations regarding environmental protection is estimated to boost the deployment of floating power plants in several end-use industries across the globe. Major end-use industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, chemical, and building & construction are expanding at a rapid pace around the globe. Growth in end-use industries can be ascribed to increase in demand for clean energy. This is propelling the demand for power generation from nuclear fusion. In turn, this is estimated to augment the demand for helium-3.
  • Researchers from various countries introduced the idea of an automated mobile lunar machine that would excavate the regolith to a depth of three meters. It would collect the excavated regolith and separate particles 50 micrometers in size electrostatically, as these particles contain the highest helium content. The remaining soil would be dumped back on the lunar surface. These particles would be heated to 600°C - 700°C to boil off the trapped gases, which are collected and compressed into cylinders. The cooled particles are also dumped back on the surface.

Rise in Applications of Helium-3 in Defense Industry

  • In terms of volume, the defense segment is estimated to dominate the helium-3 market during the forecast period. Helium-3 is used in neutron detectors to identify neutrons based on the principle of absorption. Helium-3 detectors are used in fast neutron spectroscopy measurements.
  • The power plant segment is expected to expand at a significant pace in the near future. Helium-3 is used to turn water into steam in power plants. This drives a turbine to produce electricity.
  • Liquid helium-3 may be used as a refrigerant either by evaporation of the liquid, as with other cryogenic fluids, or by making use of an analogous process in phase separated solutions of helium-3 in helium-4
  • Governments of various countries across the globe are accelerating development plans of modern energy industry. Resource conservation and environmental protection are two basic state policies, with prominence given to building a resource-conserving and environment-friendly society in the course of its industrialization and modernization.
  • Installation of nuclear fusion power plants is anticipated to be vital in Asia Pacific, owing to large-scale demand for power in countries such as China, India, Singapore, and Malaysia. Rise in population, rapid development of infrastructure, and growth of end-use industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, and construction are likely to boost the demand for power generation during the forecast period.

Helium-3 Market: Competition Landscape

  • Detailed profiles of providers of helium-3 have been included in the report to evaluate their financials, key product offerings, recent developments, and strategies
  • Key players operating in the global helium-3 market are
    • Savannah River Site, National Nuclear Security Administration
    • The Mayak Production Association
    • Space Industries

Helium-3 Market: Key Developments

  • Key providers of helium-3, such as Savannah River Site, National Nuclear Security Administration, and The Mayak Production Association are focusing on mining helium-3 from the moon. Key developments in the global helium-3 market are highlighted below:
    • In 2019, Space Industries completed early stage technology readiness level (TRL) on a number of technologies related to the Lunar Resource Extraction Vehicle (LREV). In 2020, the company was involved in the selection and development of multiple technologies, and is expected to further prototype and demonstrate these technologies in 2021
  • In the global helium-3 market report, we have discussed individual strategies, followed by company profiles of providers of helium-3. The ‘Competition Landscape’ section has been included in the report to provide readers with a dashboard view and company market share analysis of key players operating in the global helium-3 market.

Helium-3 Market – Scope of the Report

The latest study collated and published by Transparency Market Research (TMR) analyzes the historical and present-day scenario of the global helium-3 market in order to accurately gauge its future growth. The study presents detailed information about the important growth factors, restraints, and trends that are creating a landscape for the growth of the global helium-3 market so as to identify growth opportunities for market stakeholders. The report also provides insightful information about how the global helium-3 market would expand during the forecast period of 2021 to 2031.

The report offers intricate dynamics about different aspects of the global helium-3 market, which aids companies operating in the market in making strategic development decisions. TMR’s study also elaborates on significant changes that are highly anticipated to configure growth of the global helium-3 market during the forecast period. It also includes a key indicator assessment that highlights growth prospects of the global helium-3 market and estimates statistics related to growth of the market in terms of value (US$ Mn) and volume (liter).

This study covers a detailed segmentation of the global helium-3 market, along with key information and a competition outlook. The report mentions company profiles of players that are currently dominating the global helium-3 market, wherein various development, expansion, and winning strategies practiced and implemented by leading players have been presented in detail.

Key Questions Answered in TMR’s Report on Helium-3 Market

The report provides detailed information about the global helium-3 market on the basis of comprehensive research on various factors that are playing a key role in accelerating the growth potential of the global market. Information mentioned in the report answers path-breaking questions for companies that are currently operating in the market and are looking for innovative methods to create a unique benchmark in the global helium-3 market, so as to help them design successful strategies and make target-driven decisions.

  • Which application segment of the global helium-3 market would emerge as major revenue generator during the forecast period?
  • How are key market players successfully earning revenue out of advantages of helium-3?
  • What would be the Y-o-Y growth trend of the global helium-3 market between 2021 and 2031?
  • What are the winning imperatives of leading players operating in the global helium-3 market?
  • Which application segment is expected to create lucrative opportunities for the global helium-3 market during the forecast period?
  • Which are leading companies operating in the global helium-3 market?

Research Methodology – Helium-3 Market

The research methodology adopted by analysts for compiling the global helium-3 market report is based on detailed primary as well as secondary research. With the help of in-depth insights of the market-affiliated information that is obtained and legitimated by market-admissible resources, analysts have offered riveting observations and authentic forecasts for the global helium-3 market.

During the primary research phase, analysts interviewed market stakeholders, investors, brand managers, vice presidents, and sales and marketing managers. Based on data obtained through interviews of genuine sources, analysts have emphasized the changing scenario of the global helium-3 market.

For secondary research, analysts scrutinized numerous annual report publications, white papers, market association publications, and company websites to obtain the necessary understanding of the global helium-3 market.

Helium-3 Market – Segmentation

TMR’s research study assesses the global helium-3 market in terms of application and region. This report presents extensive market dynamics and trends associated with different segments of the market and how they are influencing growth prospects for the global helium-3 market.

Application
  • Oil & Gas
  • Defense
  • Power Plant
  • Medical
  • Others (including Refrigerants)
Region
  • North America
  • Latin America
  • Europe
  • Asia Pacific
  • Middle East & Africa

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