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Gilded

Helium shortage?

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Some time ago I read this article and started wondering about how important helium actually is. But besides not having vitally important and amusing helium balloons, how big of a deal a helium shortage would actually be? Many applications of helium just rely on it being inert but we have four other (stable) noble gases for that purpose. Because of helium's impressively low melting point one important application is of course the cooling of superconductors, but assuming superconductor technologies have improved by the time we hit the shortage it won't probably be a problem.

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it'll be damn annoying for research... He3 is scarilly expencive we try and stop it venting to the atmosphere when we use it. Although we try with He4 as well just not as hard...

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Helium gas is aproximately 1 part per million of the atmosphere by weight. Not much, but in theory it is extractable, at a high cost, in amounts enough for any reasonable level of use.

 

Cheap Helium from natural gas will soon be gone.

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To SH3RLOCK

 

Helium gas is a by product of radio-decay of some elements. Normally it 'disappears' due to its very light weight. However, it can accumulate under certain impervious rocks, if they are domed. This is also the structure that traps natural gas underground. Thus, in a few sites, Helium is found mixed with natural gas. The origins of each is quite different, but the means of trapping both gases are the same.

 

However, the radio-decay takes many millions of years. Thus, once the Helium is used up, it will not be replenished in a hurry!

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What I'm especially wondering about are the applications, if any, where helium is quite necessary; where it would be very difficult to replace with any other gas.

 

(By the way does anyone have any info regarding the constancy of helium concentrations in the atmosphere? I suppose it's creeping out of the earth at a fairly constant rate (when discussing periods of even thousands years, considering the long half-lives of thorium and uranium) and is floating off into the higher layers of the atmopshere at a rather constant rate. It would be interesting to know whether even the mentioned 1ppm concentration is actually mostly uncaptured helium from tapped natural gas sources, rather than helium rising somewhat uniformly from the earth around the globe.)

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