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Thread: We will run out of helium in less than a decade

  1. #1

    We will run out of helium in less than a decade

    This is really disturbing. Should we be wasting helium on stupid things like balloons for birthday parties? Wise.
    Does this mean the end of helium balloons?
    by Marshall Brain

    Are we about to run out of helium?

    Most of the helium we have on earth today comes from the radioactive decay of elements like Uranium. One place where this helium gets trapped is in natural gas pockets. We then cryogenically distill the helium out of the natural gas.

    But as we use up the natural gas, we are using up the helium, and there is no easy way to make any more. According to this article, we could be out of helium in less than a decade:

  2. #2
    Helium has bothered me for a long time. Once it's released into the atmosphere, it diffuses away from earth, so the concentration in the atmosphere is only several parts per million. The concentration in natural gas is, I believe, several percent. So the timescale of a decade seems excessively short to me, as I understand that the natural gas supply will last somewhat longer. But the end will come in not many decades.
    In time helium will become too valuable to be wasted as it is now.
    Gee, this brings back to mind the sight of the flares burning off the "waste" natural gas over the wells in Bahrain. That should have been a criminal action.
    - Richard

  3. #3
    I remember hearing this same thing about the shortage of helium at least five years ago. While helium may be an element we cannot readily replace, I don't think that the decade this article gives as a timeline is realistic. Conservation and recycling are always a good policy though, no matter what resource you're talking about.

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    SW Florida
    We may run out of helium, but as long as we have politics, we won't run out of hot air.

    [Excuse me. I have to go put more sandbags on the Politics Forum.]

  5. #5
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    SW Florida
    Wait a minute...what the hell else do we need helium for besides balloons?

  6. #6
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Alberta, Canada
    Diving below a certain depth in the ocean requires a diver to switch to breathing a helium mixer to avoid the Bends also known as decompression sickness.

    Though if it gets to the point where we're running out of helium than the bigger issue at that time we be the price of all gasses. As we won't be able to afford to burn/use any of them anyway.

  7. #7
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    SW Florida
    I know about using helium for deep underwater dives. Other uses for helium:

    As an inert gas shield for welding
    Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation pumps
    Gas lasers
    Nuclear reactors (helium doesn’t become radioactive)
    Growing specialized crystals for semiconductors
    Optical fiber production
    Leak detection
    Supersonic wind tunnels
    Helium dating for determining age

  8. #8
    Senior Member Tom's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    SW Missouri
    I'm no scientist or expert on the subject, but I do know enough that I think actually running out is quite unlikely. Reason being is that its highly likely there are unknown reserves as yet undiscovered, and probably new methods of extraction as well. Basically, as necessity is the mother of invention, so demand is that terrible two-year old throwing a tantrum And as long as there is sufficient demand then yeah, some one will find a way to get more.

    It's just like fossil fuels and difficulty of extraction. We can probably extract more fore a very long time to come, but do we want to or not? And that's a political question.

    In the eventuality, helium is certainly going to cost more tho, and kids everywhere may have to settle for hot air in their ballons anyway


  9. #9
    Here is an article that has more than you ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask about helium

    All helium that reaches the atmosphere simply "floats" to the top and is lost to space. There is almost no way of creating large amounts of helium. It is produced by fusion of hydrogen.

    The following are some very important uses of helium.

    • Helium is important as a coolant. At the noble gas with the lowest atomic weight, helium becomes liquid at 4.2˚K, lower than any other gas. It is used to cool nuclear reactors.

    • Helium and neon together is a very good and important gas mixture for producing red laser at 594.5 nm. These are so-called He-Ne lasers.

    • A helium discharge lamp (where electrical discharge is used to excite helium to a higher state) produces a whitish light.

    • For welding, helium is considered to be necessary for good welds in titanium.


  10. #10
    We're just going to have to figure out how to extract Helium from
    Helium rich planets like Jupiter.

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