Aside from being a favorite among children because it makes your voice scream at the end of a birthday party, helium has a lot of amazing and very unusual qualities and applications in the world. Despite being the second most abundant element in the universe, helium is actually very rare on Earth and is getting rarer. But did it really run out?
Helium is produced by the natural decay of radioactive uranium and thorium, but this process takes billions of years. Helium is currently collected from underground natural gas pockets, as a byproduct of the natural gas extraction process.
However, because helium is so light, any gas that escapes — whether from the containers or from the process itself — eventually floats to the edge of our atmosphere where it is blown away from Earth by the solar wind. That’s why helium is often described as the only true non-renewable resource, according to American Chemistry Society. Long, Helium.
“It takes thousands of years to produce helium here on Earth,” said Sophia Hayes, a chemist at Washington University in St. Louis. NPR. “It’s the only element from the entire periodic table that escapes Earth and goes out into outer space.”
Helium is useful because it stays incredibly cold, having the lowest boiling point of any element at -268.9°C (-452°F). This property makes it particularly useful for things like cooling the superconducting magnets found in MRI machines, and even powering space rockets. The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland needs about 120 metric tons of helium per week to keep it running, according to Bloomberg.
“Helium is a non-renewable resource. NASA and SpaceX need helium for liquid fuel rockets. The MRI industry needs helium. The pharmaceutical industry depends on helium. And so does the Department of Defense,” said Bill Halperin, a professor of physics at Northwestern University. NBC News.
the Fed Helium In the USA, created in the 1920s for airships, it has supplied about 40 percent of the world’s helium, but the future of this plant is uncertain. The reserve was supposed to be on sale for the past few years but there have been numerous delays. But now, it looks like the show might be able to Finally it will be sold To the private sector in the next few months, with an unknown impact on the helium supply chain.
Only a small handful of other countries have significant helium resources, including Qatar, Tanzania and Algeria. Russia A new helium plant was also supposed to open, but fire and war in Ukraine made the plans uncertain.
Estimates vary as to how much helium is left in the world and how long it will last. In 2019 David Cole Hamilton, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at the University of St Andrews, told independent He estimates that the world has about 10 years of helium unless more effort is put into recycling. Others suggest that between 100 and 200 years of helium use could be the best estimate.
Regardless of the estimates, the indirect impacts on the industry could be huge, not to mention the ongoing volatile nature of helium prices.
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