Scientists working at a new facility in the northwest of China said the plant could be the start of mass production of helium in the country. The workers said they are extracting helium from the waste product of natural gas at the plant.
Nearly all helium in China comes from elsewhere, mostly imported from America or US-owned facilities in other countries.
Helium is used to make hi-tech products in China including rockets and computer chips.
The new plant began operating last week and could change China’s reliance on US imports.
It is located inside a natural gas processing plant in Yanchi county, Ningxia.
The plant is the first facility in China to produce helium on a commercial scale.
Scientists working at the facility are expecting the annual output of liquid helium to reach 20 tonnes.
But China uses more than 4,300 tonnes of helium every year.
The cost of the plant, however, was low which means hundreds of similar facilities could be built in China making self reliance more achievable.
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Most of the gas is extracted as a by-product in natural gas production.
The US has some of the globe’s largest helium-rich natural gas fields.
Direct extraction is too expensive for China as the country’s natural gas contains trace amounts of helium.
A research team at the Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry in Beijing found there were considerable amounts of helium in the waste product of Chinese natural gas plants.
Another scientist close to the project told the South China Morning Post that the production cost was “competitive” compared to the cost of importing helium.
According to industry data, the cost of helium more than doubled last year.
The trade war between the US and China is raising new concerns for the helium market.
Experts believe China will still depend on the US for helium in the years to come.
Building more plants and facilities in the country will take a significant amount of time.
One of the scientists involved in the project said: “I think we’ll need at least 10 years to reach self-reliance.”