By Ina Muri
Posting in Design
Scientists fear that we might exhaust the world's helium supply in only 30 years.
Scientist lament that we're wasting our limited supply of the valuable gas on party balloons and squeaky-voice gags, The Week reports.
Helium is a remarkable gas that is used to make everything from telescopes to MRIs run smoother, and we are using so much of it that we're exhausting the world supply.
The supply is mostly contained in underground pockets that is dislodged by drilling for oil and gas. But at the rate we are using helium, scientists fear we could exhaust our supply in 30 years. In the early 20th Century the U.S. stockpiled billions of liters of gas because they were convinced that helium would play a major role in air travel and airship-based warfare.
As the future of airfare did not turn out quite like they envisioned in the 1920s, the U.S. began to sell off its helium surplus in the 1990s--at a much lower cost than the market price. Professor Robert Richardson of Cornell University estimates that if helium is sold at the correct market price, a party balloon would cost approximately $100.
Beyond making telescopes and MRIs, another reason for why helium is so valuable is that it can be cooled to the temperature of -454 degrees Fahrenheit, which allow researchers to freeze atoms to the point where their vibrations slow down and they become easy to study. Further, in liquid form it can help keep nuclear reactors form overheating.
Dr. Oleg Kirichek, the leader of a research team at the Science & Technology Facilities Council in the U.K., had an unpleasant surprise last week when one of his key experiments--designed to probe the structure of matter--had to be cancelled because the facility ran out of helium. "Yet we use it to make our voices go squeaky for a laugh" Kirichek told the Guardian. "It's very, very stupid. It makes me really angry."
Although helium is rare on Earth it is abundant in space as solar winds and soil on the moon, which is proven by analyses of lunar dirt brought home by the Apollos astronauts, Dr. Ian Crawford of University of London said. "So you could envisage the day when in becomes economic to build mines on the moon to supply us with helium. It just depends how expensive our own sources become."
[Via the Week]
Photo courtesy: Paul Burns/Getty Images and Eric Raptosh Photography/ Blind I/ Blend Images/ Corbis
Mar 25, 2012
Another use for helium - it could cool nuclear reactors, much more effectively than water does today. To complete the nuclear circle, the helium could come from fusion reactors, where it's a byproduct. See "Helium, the next hot commodity" on SmartPlanet: http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/intelligent-energy/helium-the-next-hot-commodity/11513?tag=search-river.
So I guess they're now going to outlaw helium balloons or make it so expensive the average Joe can't afford it. I find it hard to believe in this day and age that someone hasn't figured out how to synthesize helium. If I remember correctly, helium is the most abundant gas throughout the universe, or at least the Milky Way anyway. Since we have such a large stockpile of it, the U.S. probably figured they could jack up the price and make a rather large profit. Unfortunatley they won't pay off the deficit with that money, they'd just find something else to waste the money on that will most likely wind up in the politicians pockets....
Sounds a little premature, and dramatic. It is not in-exhaustible, and I think we should all recognize it, but we were also told by the 'alarmist' fear mongers that we would run out of oil by the 1970's. The fact is, we could run out of just about everything, except rhetoric.
Hydrogen is the most abundant element/gas throughout the universe, which makes sense considering its 1 on the periodic table. Helium is the second... which makes sense because its 2 on that same famed table. They can make it, or will be able to anyway. Its the byproduct... or will be... of ITER-style tokamak fusion reactor designs. Something I think they are planning on using to make it on demand, thus/hence the reason they dump it now while they can. Personally, I think they should let the market decide the price of it. It might make sure that we have enough given that ITER is most likely never going to be a economic fusion design, esp when compared to LFTRs and the such.