# Helium running out!

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by John Connellan, Jan 14, 2009.

1. ### swivelSci-Fi AuthorValued Senior Member

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HE is still very cheap around here. I wonder if I should go out and rent as many tanks as I can afford and release that HE into the atmosphere so future generations will have access to it!?

3. ### kmguruStaff Member

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I thought we have a lot of Helium undeground....just a matter of finding it.

5. ### Billy TUse Sugar Cane Alcohol car FuelValued Senior Member

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I forget, but seem to recall that some of the texas gas wells were nearly 1% helium - the cost was in separating it out for storage. It would be very expensive to recover from the atmosphere.

Swivel: Only way that releasing tank stored He into the air could help is if the plants that are able to recover it from natural gas wells ar not now running as they demand is too small for it to pay to run those plants. I doubt if your purchases would get them started up again if they are not now saving the He in the CH4 coming out of the gas wells.

7. ### kmguruStaff Member

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I worked as a consultant in one of the Helium Plants owned by Exxon in Wyoming. That plant produced 72% of the world Helium supply.

8. ### Billy TUse Sugar Cane Alcohol car FuelValued Senior Member

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What was the source (natural gas wells I am assuming but still asking) If natural gas, what was the concentration as %? And any more details you can remember about the energy cost especially per Kg of helium stored.

9. ### kmguruStaff Member

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I was there 20 years ago, it is all hazy...but I remember it was coming from gas wells and had a lot of Hydrogen Sulphide in it which killed one guy in an accident. Can not remember the concentration, perhaps googling might provide some clues....

10. ### swivelSci-Fi AuthorValued Senior Member

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So, is it a good idea for me to rent these tanks and release the HE back into the atmosphere where we can use it later if we need it? I'm thinking of doing this during the Superbowl.

11. ### Billy TUse Sugar Cane Alcohol car FuelValued Senior Member

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No - once in the atmosphere, with “Equal partition of energy” in collision (on average) and helium being much lighter than O2 or N2 it is typically colliding with, the He velocity is higher* so if going up, it climbs higher against gravity. As someone has noted, if you go high enough helium is a significant part of the atmosphere.

Up there the mean free path between collisions is much larger and after collisions the helium is on a ballistic trajectory until the next collision. Some of these collisions do not share the energy equally but give much more than the average to some upward bound helium atoms and their velocity can and does exceed Earth escape velocity, so eventually all the helium you release will be in solar orbit. (Not bound to Earth.)
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*O2 is 8 times more massive than He and energy goes as 0.5mV^2. So on average mVV of He equals Mvv of O2 but M/m = 8 so VV/vv = 8 or V/v = 2 sq2. Or in words, the average He atom is going more than 2.8 times faster than the average O2 molecule in the air at any level.

BTW this higher gas speed for helium is true in your throat when it is filled with He. The speed of sound is directly related to the average speed of the gas the sound is in. The resonate frequency of any chamber is also directly proportional to the average speed of the molecules filling that chamber and the rate that your vocal cords can vibrate is higher when the mass of the molecules they must push out of the way is less. That is why you sound like Donald Duck when your throat is filled with Helium.

12. ### CharonZRegistered Senior Member

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In my old institute the FTICR-MS could not run for quite while because the Helium supplier could not deliver. At the temperature it was the only collision gas usable (below 87 K that is).

13. ### ElectricFetusSanity going, going, goneValued Senior Member

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Another article talking about the helium shortage: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19676639

The argument that used medical helium can be used to fill party balloons is bunk: the used helium can be refined back into industrial and cryogenic grade.

I still believe party balloons would be better off filled with hydrogen, certainly would make birthdays more exciting ;O

14. ### Billy TUse Sugar Cane Alcohol car FuelValued Senior Member

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Here is less than four months old article on the He supply problem: http://www.scs.illinois.edu/nmr/docs/HeliumStopSquanderingNature_Nature31May2012.pdf

clearly party ballons are not a significant problem - only 8% of He is used for them. One LNG plant vents to the air 1000 times more He than all the world´s party balloons do. That is where to focus your concerns - once vented to the air it will leave the Earth for reasons I discussed in my prior post 48.

Fracting for natural gas to be used a fuel may save a lot of He if it is cheaper (as seems to be) than conventional NG wells because the He that may have been in the "fracted rocks" that are producing alpha particle quickly escapes naturally, so the NG fuel from that source has essentially none to release when burnt.

What needs tobe done, IMHO, is increase the cost / value of He so that more of it found in He rich NG wells (best known have 7% He) will be separated even if only 0.1% He rich and be stored by private speculators who hope to sell it at a profit a few years later into a market with the price peaks of sort of a steadily increasing prices. Speculators almost always make the prices advance more steady and predictable. I.e. If we don´t make "steady" prices rise, the He will remain in the NG, pass thru your furnace or stove and be forever lost.

Thus, ironically, greater use of party balloons may help increase the price and makes private storage by speculators attractive economically with lower current He losses via fuel use of He containing NG. At current He prices, the value of the CH4 is about 2,000 times more than the He, so it is not economical to separate out and store the He in the fuel gas. It is expensive but necessary to refine the NG as the CO2 in the NG (often more than 50%) must be removed before it pays to ship it thru the pipeline long distances. While this CO2 is removed, many other components are also and most have some commercial value. In many cases the finally vented "waste gas" is nearly 50% He! The current economics needs to be changed so that this huge venting of He "waste gas" stops and the He in it is converted into He product for storage and later sale when He demand and prices are higher.

SUMMARY: Don´t blame party balloons for the He shortages - they may be part of the solution as ~10,000 times their use is now wasted due to the economics but the question is so complex, I certainly don´t claim to know. I´m not sure anyone does as too many future unknowns exist. I am, however, nearly sure more use of fracking gas fuel will help keep more He on the Earth.

15. ### ElectricFetusSanity going, going, goneValued Senior Member

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Well I disagree with your assumption that as soon as it enters the air it will be lost to space, certainly helium is striped from the ionosphere but the fact that earth atmosphere has at the surface 5 ppm of helium probably means it being replaces as fast as its escaping the earth. I would say the problem of what happens when helium hits the air is that the cost to extract it from air is exorbitant! Far more expensive then trying to pull it out of gas as 0.1% helium is trying to pull it out of air at 0.0005%. Party balloons and other non-industrial uses of helium will only bring the day and age of expensive helium closer. Sure supply will open up, sure if it got expensive enough we would suck it out of air for a profit, but it still means its final price will still make industrial and necessary usage far harder.

Last edited: Sep 23, 2012
16. ### Billy TUse Sugar Cane Alcohol car FuelValued Senior Member

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I agree with almost all of this, but note I did not say: "as soon as it enters the air it will be lost to space" just that it ultimately will be and that it will not even make a significant increase in the atmospheric concentration of He, which would be very impossible economic source even if the concentration were 100 times higher than it is. I.e. I did say it is "forever lost" if released into the air as is now being done by more than 1000 pounds per day (my quick estimate) by production of cold LNG for shipping in LNG tankers.

I think only a doubling, or certainly a tripling, of the current price, if then steady say 10% annual increase were very likely would make it attractive to speculators to build separation and storage* facilities so that some of what is now released to the air would be stored. As far as the impact on MRI medical machine cost even a 5 fold increase in the cost of He is only a very tiny fraction of the magnet cost. Lead the way to He conservation - fill He balloons at your next party!

* Storage in salt water filled salt dome structure should be cheap and every decade or so a few more could be added. It is the cost of the separation plant than is larger, but starting to cool more from LNG temperature is a help. IMHO, no LNG ship should be filled with CH4 if doing so dumped the He into the air.

Last edited by a moderator: Sep 22, 2012
17. ### Walter L. WagnerCosmic Truth SeekerValued Senior Member

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Perhaps government intervention is needed. If persons/companies were 'taxed' or 'fined' for release of He instead of saving it, perhaps it would become economical to save it, and develop a governmental inventory (i.e. the government could also buy it for future unknown usage). Party balloon usage, of course, for kids would be exempted. Currently, it is uneconomical to save it (except for that one plant KMGuru worked at).

18. ### Billy TUse Sugar Cane Alcohol car FuelValued Senior Member

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The US government did buy and store He for many year and required US government agencies needing He to take from that store and pay its higher than market price (by ~25%). I think over the years, the market price went to slightly above the price of the government and most of what was stored is now gone. I.e. the government´s price became a cap on the price rise while it lasted.

I also believe the government bought He at the lower market price and probably made a good profit when it sold the stored He years later. Just as I suggested in post 53 that speculators could while performing both the service of keep price rise more steady and saving a lot of He that is now just vented. To get them to do that sooner rather than later when more He has been forever lost by venting we need the price to rise NOW. So go buy some He filled balloons - help drive up the price.

19. ### Billy TUse Sugar Cane Alcohol car FuelValued Senior Member

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More on He:
They can´t just use vacuum even thought the ability to seal He would hold vacuum too, but they need some gas inside for thermal transfer to the case.

20. ### X-Man2We're under no illusions.Registered Senior Member

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Helium shortage deflates cross-country balloon race-September 28,2012

Due to the shortage and COST an Albuquerque hot air balloon race was cancelled.

Quote:

"Until just recently you could fill a helium balloon for about $3,500.Helium,the only gas used to compete in the race until 2005, has become rare and expensive. Sullivan said that a helium-only balloon would now cost a competitor about$15,000"

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57522430/helium-shortage-deflates-cross-country-balloon-race/

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Wait a minute! Something looks wrong here - what has helium got to do with a HOT AIR balloon?? Or is this just another case of a news reporter not knowing what he's /she's talking about??

22. ### NeverflyBannedBanned

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I think this one is reporter error. I got a kick out of the article picture showing a sky full of Hot Air Balloons.

I certainly hope these folks know better than to fill a hot air balloon with helium and then light the burner.