DLA Energy supports university researchers’ helium needs

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Susan Lowe, DLA Energy 

Defense Logistics Agency Energy has partnered with the American Physical Society and the American Chemical Society in a pilot program to provide small amounts of helium at affordable prices to U.S. academic researchers.


DLA Energy learned about the challenges universities face when trying to obtain reliable sources and pricing for helium during a Federal Helium Users meeting in Washington, D.C., in March 2013.


“We heard [their challenges] as an opportunity,” said Doug Smith, chief of DLA Energy Aerospace Energy Supplier Operations. “We told the university representatives that if they were covered by a federal grant, DLA Energy could potentially buy helium for them.


Universities are often hit with surcharges by vendors, and a portion of their research has to be discarded, because they don't have a reliable source of helium, Smith added.


Smith said the proof of concept will have numerous benefits.


Mark Elsesser, a policy analyst at the American Physical Society, said he agreed.


“Liquid helium is essential for research activity across a wide range of disciplines,” Elsesser said. “Physicists, chemists, biologists all depend on liquid helium for both leading-edge experiments and to operate critical scientific instruments.”


Providing academic researchers an avenue to purchase affordable and reliable liquid helium will help their pursuit of the next wave of scientific breakthroughs, Elsesser added.


“The desired outcome of the proof of concept is to obtain a good price and reliable supply of helium for the universities,” Smith said. “Additionally, we’ll see an increased sales base for DLA Energy and decreased costs for all of our customers, as our overhead can be spread over an even greater customer base.”


“DLA Energy will establish sales agreements with a small number of universities,” said Ken Grams, chief of DLA Energy Aerospace Energy Customer Operations. “That group will receive support from us under our long-term contracts for helium supply.


“Starting small gives us the opportunity to show the value we can offer the academic community,” Grams said. “There is the potential for this to roll out to a much larger number of universities.”


DLA Energy personnel will begin defining the requirements with the universities chosen for the proof of concept immediately. Once sales agreements are established and requirements are finalized, they will solicit those requirements from industry.


“It is our goal to have a solidified sales agreement and requirement from these universities in the January 2015 timeframe,” Grams said. “The next step will be to solicit those requirements, establish responsible suppliers, and cover those requirements with contracts.”


The universities that are part of the proof of concept can expect to begin receiving product under a DLA Energy contract in the April-May 2015 timeframe.


The DLA Energy Aerospace Energy contract team is a group of professional buyers who can offer the universities better terms and conditions, as well as leveraging economies of scale, Smith said.


“We already buy liquid helium for the Department of Defense, and the commercial space launch industry, which supports DoD and other federal requirements, so this is what we do, it’s one of our core competencies,” he said. “Our contract specialists can negotiate on behalf of the universities, so the researchers or university procurement officials don’t have to move into the cryogen business.”


This should be of benefit to industry as well, since their transaction costs should go down, Smith said. Instead of submitting offers to each of these universities individually, they can do it a single time under a DLA Energy Aerospace Energy solicitation.


“As we get better prices, we’ll be able to spread our cost over more unit sales, and that is a win for the warfighters, academic scientists and taxpayers, too,” Smith said. “I’m excited to be a part of the program.”

DLA Energy has partnered with the American Physical Society and the American Chemical Society in a pilot program to provide small amounts of helium at affordable prices to U.S. academic researchers.
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