BOC (BOX) has opened the largest commercial helium facility in China, a distribution center located in Suzhou, to meet the increasing demand from optical fiber and semiconductor manufacturing companies.

BOC opened the distribution center, which will supply gaseous and liquid helium to customers throughout China, earlier this month. The facility is located in one of China's main industrial parks, the China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) in Jiangsu province.

"The Suzhou investment is the latest in a series of commitments that BOC has made to strengthen our position in the rapidly growing Chinese market. BOC plans to continue to invest in our Chinese infrastructure in an effort to provide the highest level of service to Chinese helium customers," said Phil Kornbluth, vice president, global helium, BOC.

China is one of BOC's fastest growing helium markets. Demand has grown at the rate of 16% during the last five years, driven by scientific and medical applications, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), as well as high-tech applications including optical fiber and semiconductor manufacturing.

BOC employs 18 people at the facility, including drivers, plant workers and managers.

Liquid helium is shipped to Shanghai in specially insulated containers from helium sources in the U.S. From there, trucks haul the containers to Suzhou, where it is repackaged for delivery to end customers, most of whom are located in eastern China.

BOC was the first industrial gases company to invest in China in 1987. Since then, BOC has invested about US$600 million through its three lines of business and 25 joint ventures and wholly-owned companies.

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