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Price Shocks May Be Coming For Helium Supply

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the squeaky-voice-price-inflation dept.

Earth 362

Ars has an update on the potential helium shortage we discussed a couple of years back. A Nobel laureate, Robert Richardson, argues for ending market distortions that are resulting in an artificially low price for helium, which is accelerating the projected exhaustion of the supply. "Richardson's solution is to rework the management of the Bush Dome [so named for reasons that have nothing to do with the politician] stockpile once again, this time with the aim of ensuring that helium's price rises to reflect its scarcity. In practical terms, he said that it would be better to deal with a 20-fold increase in price now than to deal with it increasing by a factor of thousands in a few decades when supply issues start to become critical. But he also made an emotional appeal, stating, 'One generation doesn't have the right to determine the availability forever.'"

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Lets mine the Moon! (1)

Seriousity (1441391) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804276)

We can make clones on the moon and insert fake memories into them - who wants to spend money on training? Then we can power the world with H3 :D

The Cathedral and the Mustard Jar (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32804288)

One time when Eric S. Raymond was young he got a small jar of mustard stuck up his ass. It was so far up there that he had to go to the doctors to have it removed. When the doctor went in for an exploratory he could not find the mustard jar.
"How far is it up inside you?", the doctor asked him.
"It's deep in there," Eric said, "keep looking."
The doctor then proceeded to reach farther into his anal cavity, but still no jar.
"I can't seem to reach it," the doc said. "I think we will have to do an x-ray, to see whereabouts in your ass the jar is located."
"No. That's okay," he said back to the doctor, "I just wanted you to stick your hand up my ass. That's all."
After that the hospital banned him from coming back, but the doctor was from that point forward a valued contributor to open-source.

Re:The Cathedral and the Mustard Jar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32805100)

He got it out by using an open source jar file.

Re:Lets mine the Moon! (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804334)

No thats Helium 3. The best sources of Helium are in the four gas giants but I think the price locally would have to rise by a factor in the billions to make extraction economical.

On a personal note my eight year old son asked me the other day how helium balloons work and could we get a bottle of helium to play around with. Looks like I should do that before the price goes up.

And I wonder exactly how dangerous it would be to use hydrogen for party balloons? The density in the balloon will be low, but the bottle of hydrogen might be dangerous, but possibly no worse than propane.

Re:Lets mine the Moon! (2, Insightful)

Jafafa Hots (580169) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804390)

Looks like I should do that before the price goes up.

Or, you could explain to him about the situation with helium that you wouldn't want to waste a rare, precious resourse that might be unavailable to future generations even for more important uses, should we continue to use it frivolously today.

Re:Lets mine the Moon! (5, Funny)

swb (14022) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804508)

Mom, why is dad such a boring, sanctimonious pain in the ass?

Re:Lets mine the Moon! (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804514)

Looks like I should do that before the price goes up.

Or, you could explain to him about the situation with helium that you wouldn't want to waste a rare, precious resourse that might be unavailable to future generations even for more important uses, should we continue to use it frivolously today.

Considering the amount of helium lost from weather balloons and airships I doubt my experiments will have an impact.

Re:Lets mine the Moon! (2, Insightful)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804542)

But if you would multiply that by the number of all other people doing such experiments / fun and telling themselves (well, OK, mostly just don't know & don't care) that they don't have an impact?

Re:Lets mine the Moon! (1)

Natetheinfamous (1343315) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804642)

Or, you could explain to him about the current situation with helium and then explain to his mother why you invested all his college tuition into Helium futures.

Re:Lets mine the Moon! (3, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804442)

Unless the hydrogen cylinder is slowly leaking into an enclosed room, it is basically as harmless as the helium one.

Hydrogen will give a reasonably zesty(but ever so eco-friendly) explosion if mixed with oxygen in an enclosed space in the right concentrations; but, being less dense than air, tends to just float away unless well enclosed. Plus, at ~atmospheric pressure, H2 has crap energy density, so it is way less dangerous than larger hydrocarbon gasses and liquids.

Re:Lets mine the Moon! (1)

Jarik C-Bol (894741) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804664)

however, if you paint your party balloons with thermite...

Re:Lets mine the Moon! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32805146)

Use hydrogen. Really. It's not that big of a deal when dealing with things as small as toy balloons. And you can tie a fuse on the end of it for some neat fire works. If something goes wrong the fireball might singe you a bit, but it ain't going to maim you.

Re:Lets mine the Moon! (5, Funny)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804468)

The moon? There's lots more in the sun. Just stick a big straw into it and drain it out. Just don't let BP do it. They'll blow out a big hole and the thing will fly off like a balloon.

Re:Lets mine the Moon! (3, Funny)

Bman21212 (1067680) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804714)

I have no problem seeing BP sent into the sun

Re:Lets mine the Moon! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32804786)

I wouldn't want to take the chance... Best to just lock 'em up in a dungeon.

Re:Lets mine the Moon! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32804858)

My god, a literal shooting star.
That would be the most awesome thing ever.

"hey daddy whats that?"
"That's a shooting star Sarah, make a wish"
"Daddy, why is it getting hotter?"
"blaaaaaggagarrffzzt"

Re:Lets mine the Moon! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32805136)

But I thought helium balloons would fly off _without_ a hole.

Re:Lets mine the Moon! (1)

arctan1701 (635900) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804492)

i get the feeling that you just ruined a movie that i was planning to see for me, didn't you?

Re:Lets mine the Moon! (1)

Seriousity (1441391) | more than 4 years ago | (#32805150)

No, because I lied, what I said doesn't resemble the movies plot at all :)

No Problem (4, Funny)

LBArrettAnderson (655246) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804284)

This isn't an issue... all we need to do is send some blimps up to collect all of the balloons that kids accidentally let fly away.

Re:No Problem (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804480)

Another idea would be to fill up a small house with balloons and... oh wait.

Re:No Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32804560)

Too bad the helium on the outer edge of the atmosphere is shaken off earth by its rotation and flung into space.

Re:No Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32804622)

Well then it's a good thing they're contained by rubber!

Re:No Problem (2, Informative)

DigitAl56K (805623) | more than 4 years ago | (#32805018)

All we need to do is make nuclear fusion work.

I can't wait... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32804286)

...to see how the neo-facists out there re-spin this as "but supply and demand economics will save the day!"

Nevermind that you can never, ever, get back the helium you loose on the surface of the planet.

Economics has nothing to do with the natural availability of resources; if it did then the artificial pricing of said helium wouldn't be an issue, would it?

Re:I can't wait... (5, Informative)

TruthSauce (1813784) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804316)

Supply and demand are a short-term adjustment, not a long term one.

There is absolutely nothing (other than perhaps some sort of "speculative warehousing" schemes) that would allow supply-and-demand adjust to prevent the depletion of a non-renewable resource.

Helium, for example, is priced based on how easy and cheap it is to extract it from the ground immediately, right now, rather than on what its real time-value is when considering the value of potential important industrial, medical and scientific usage 100 years from now when the stuff will be impossible to obtain, because too many people stuffed it into party balloons and party favours and a billion other random uses today.

Re:I can't wait... (5, Informative)

slack_justyb (862874) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804968)

because too many people stuffed it into party balloons and party favours and a billion other random uses today.

Okay I've grown really tired of this argument. The Helium that is used in balloons and blimps accounts for an incredibly small amount of the total use. The most single use of Helium is as a coolant. The largest group of uses is as a purging gas or artificial atmosphere (like in arc wielding, silicon mfg., etc...) Just those two together account for 75% of all uses.

Second, Helium is under constant resupply here on Earth, pretty much all helium on Earth today is the radioactive decay of heavy metals in the interior of the Earth.

I understand where people are coming from when they warn of this kind of stuff, but LONG term this stuff resupplies at a pretty decent rate. Hence the reason He is the second most abundant element in the universe. Fine, rise the price, but don't blame it on the balloons.

Re:I can't wait... (3, Informative)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804630)

Nevermind that you can never, ever, get back the helium you loose on the surface of the planet.

I don't mean to burst your Helium bubble, but the stuff is actually produced naturally by radioactive decay in the crust, etc. You may have heard of things called alpha particles, which sometimes have the symbol He2+. All you need to do to get Helium at this point is add 2 electrons, and we're not short on those.

Re:I can't wait... (5, Informative)

mysidia (191772) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804962)

Are you forgetting that this entire situation is due to government meddling, as in government buying helium for one price, building a massive reserve, and then selling it for a much lower (ridiculously low) price, totally independent of any demand or worth of the product?

He3 situation even worse (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32804296)

I hear that He3, which is used in high tech detectors in connection to neutron imaging, is harder and harder to get because the US gov't is buying up all available resource to build bulls..., err, terrorism detectors and nothing is left for science.

Killing Brain Cells to end soon (3, Insightful)

Crock23A (1124275) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804298)

All I can think of is making kids laugh at parties by inhaling helium and then talking like a chipmunk. I will miss those days.

Re:Killing Brain Cells to end soon (2, Funny)

Zerth (26112) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804540)

In the future, we'll do the trick with sulfur hexafluoride instead.

At least until enough kids suffocate.

fuck that cocksucker (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32804332)

Who gives a shit about the future? I've got mine. Bugger off, graybeard.

Hmm (1)

Stumbles (602007) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804340)

So lets see, discover helium behaves like glass under certain conditions; raise helium prices to reflect some "perceived artificial low" price; profit from a helium super fluids.

No problem in the long term (1, Funny)

syousef (465911) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804344)

In the long term disney characters will finally be out of copyright and will no longer be popular. So we won't need helium to make those zany character voices. Better to use it now while the characters are still popular. That is the only use for helium right? Science? Pah, what's that!?

"One generation doesn't have the right to..." (5, Insightful)

BarryJacobsen (526926) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804352)

One generation doesn't have the right to determine the availability forever.

Like property rights, why should land only be able to be sold by those who got to it first (or bought it from those who did) - I wasn't able to compete with them and doesn't seem fair that my ancestors lack of ability to "win" should deprive me.

And the same thing for all the minerals that have already been mined from the earth. And in fact, every single thing on the entire planet, ever.

Re:"One generation doesn't have the right to..." (3, Insightful)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804440)

doesn't seem fair that my ancestors lack of ability to "win" should deprive me.

Similarly, your ancestors lack of ability to provide for their offspring shouldn't deprive me.

Re:"One generation doesn't have the right to..." (3, Insightful)

fm6 (162816) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804488)

So conservation == socialism? Why not, everything else does.

Re:"One generation doesn't have the right to..." (1)

Black Gold Alchemist (1747136) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804650)

Where did the GP mention socialism? Since everything is socialism, your mention of socialism without it previously being mentioned means you are a socialist! :).

Re:"One generation doesn't have the right to..." (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32804646)

I am trying to figure out if 'saving enough for future generations' means I have to save enough for my grandkids, or if I have to save enough for my grandkids' grandkids. How many generations is enough?

Re:"One generation doesn't have the right to..." (2, Interesting)

10101001 10101001 (732688) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804672)

One generation doesn't have the right to determine the availability forever.

Like property rights, why should land only be able to be sold by those who got to it first (or bought it from those who did) - I wasn't able to compete with them and doesn't seem fair that my ancestors lack of ability to "win" should deprive me.

And the same thing for all the minerals that have already been mined from the earth. And in fact, every single thing on the entire planet, ever.

You're examples are interesting, and they do illustrate a point. One generation does have the right to determine the availability forever. But, it also has the responsibility and obligation to wisely use those resources. This comes not only in not trivially forever consuming resources but also, as you point out, providing for future generations to inherent that which is available in a fair way. Oligarchies makes sense in a gene pool, but in the short term humanity exists much more in a meme pool where ideas have much more weight than genetic mutation.

The long-term survival of the meme pool to maintain and progress requires, then, the opportunity for everyone to grow so that those most capable, willing, and involved actually continue the meme pool. To facilitate this requires many things, including the availability of quality education and a mechanism of reallocating rival resources (property taxes and death taxes come to mind). This also can translate into absorbing into monetary costs the externalities of pollution or the warpings of other externalities. Just because a right trumps an obligation in the axioms of law doesn't mean a law cannot be created or a society can willfully choose to act individually to fulfill an obligation and withhold from the exercising of a right. Recognizing that this can and should be so is something too few seeming willing to acknowledge, so I do congratulate you on noting the difference.

Re:"One generation doesn't have the right to..." (0, Flamebait)

perpetual pessimist (1245416) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804974)

doesn't seem fair

Life ain't fair.

But don't worry, you are not required to realize that. It just means you're far more likely to exit life quite soon. We'll laugh at the very surprised look on your face as you leave.

Someone owns stocks in major helium producers (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32804360)

While on the train ride back from Germany, I read a headline in the Financial Times.

"Mineral Prices Depress as Fear Dissipates"

It was spot on. I was involved over the last year in a major project for the Dutch government on the topic of mineral scarcity. After a year of intensive research I came to the conclusion that the mineral scarcity situation was effectively the inability of manufacturers and managers to effectively communicate their material requirements. There is really no absolute scarcity on the planet. We've tapped less than 2% of the resource base on the planet. Unless we suddenly run out of energy, prompting us to slow down extraction of these minerals, it is unlikely we'll ever really be faced with a shortage.

Needless to say, such analytical conclusions are not popular these days, we'd much rather claim there really is a scarcity situation as that would give the government something to do. Not a shock that the results of my study were warped, rewritten and omitted. In the end there was no science left in the report presented to the Dutch government. Just another fear piece, much like this one, which temporariliy increases the price of a resource so a few greedy bastards can make a buck while legitimate manufacturers get screwed with a major artificial spike in price.

Re:Someone owns stocks in major helium producers (0, Flamebait)

rtb61 (674572) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804516)

An obfuscating truth covering over a lie. Mineral resources need to exist in sufficient concentrations at any particular point and in sufficient quantity to make mining those resources cost effective. If you a talking about base elements your typical right wing idiot could argue that non of the mineral have been used up at all, it all still exists and hence you never actually use any, so this generation is fully entitled to mine all readily accessible concentrations of resources to profit itself and fuck future generations.

The mining of resources not only uses up all the 'MOST' viable concentration of resources it also results in pollution of the planet, not only from mining but also from refining (which becomes much worse as you deal with less viable mining resources).

Whilst today's psychopaths care little for the current generation and even less for future generations including their own descendents, the rest of us the majority still should consider all future generations of humanity in the way we use and abuse our mutual resources, not just the next but thousands of years even hundreds of thousands of years into the future. Of course for the psychopath the whole of humanity can cease and die when the psychopath does as they will no longer be able to exploit them.

The best way to reduce mineral scarcity, eliminate the psychopaths who consume resources beyond all reason, no more mega yachts, mansions, private jets et al. the planet can no longer cope with them.

Re:Someone owns stocks in major helium producers (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32804736)

Insightful MY ASS.

Prices rises, lower concentrations become economically viable, util we use all the fucking Earth crust.

This is just a STUPID rant with the all too common "blame the rich". Way more resources are used keeping stupid people like you viable than keeping my humble pleasure boat.

Re:Someone owns stocks in major helium producers (4, Interesting)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804892)

Insightful MY ASS.

Prices rises, lower concentrations become economically viable, util we use all the fucking Earth crust.

This is just a STUPID rant with the all too common "blame the rich". Way more resources are used keeping stupid people like you viable than keeping my humble pleasure boat.

There aren't enough yacht-owning rich to account for all the resource usage on this planet. Hell, one of the biggest uses of electric power in the U.S. is residential refrigeration ... let's blame the rich for that.

Re:Someone owns stocks in major helium producers (5, Funny)

haruchai (17472) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804940)

You named your ass Insightful? Or is it really the source of your insight? That would explain many of the Anonymous Coward postings I've seen
over the years.

"Ladies & Germs, I'd like to introduce Insightful, my ass"

Re:Someone owns stocks in major helium producers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32805040)

Prices rises, lower concentrations become economically viable, util we use all the fucking Earth crust.

Who's this we? By the time using "all the fucking Earth crust" is "economically viable", it'll cost more than all the trillions of dollars in the world to do it. In other words: there IS an absolute upper bound to the economic viability of resource extraction.

At that point, we better pray that our descendants have figured out how to get around these limits somehow. Probably by using the lowest class to wade through ancient landfills and sort through the drug needles and toxic waste for usable bits of metals.

Re:Someone owns stocks in major helium producers (4, Insightful)

Black Gold Alchemist (1747136) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804836)

The best way to reduce mineral scarcity, eliminate the psychopaths who consume resources beyond all reason, no more mega yachts, mansions, private jets et al. the planet can no longer cope with them.

Wrong. The best way is to develop the world as fast as humanly possible. Why? Because the more resources people consume, the less children they have. If population growth is our enemy, then our friend is economic growth. This is happening in a big way in places like India, which previously was a huge pop growth center. It is still growing, but it is down from 6 births per woman to 2.75 per woman [google.com] . Why? not because of environmentalism, government or anything. It is because of consumerism and capitalism. Why? because women decided that they'd rather have cars then kids. What this means is that if we build, build, build, we end up with less people total. If we conserve and become poorer, more people will be born, and we will end up with a overpopulation catastrophe. Oh, and the mega yachts etc. of the ultra rich aren't the main resource users. It's average people in developed countries. It doesn't really matter though, because we haven't used all that much of the earth's metals.

not only from mining but also from refining (which becomes much worse as you deal with less viable mining resources).

Wrong again, rtb61. A mine in a poorer country that dumps toxic waste into a river is bad news. A modern mine, with all it's emission controls and neutralization processes is not. You really have to understand the difference between an open coal fire and highly emissions controlled one.

The world contains more than enough metal for all the stuff the enviros love to hate. More energy then we could ever find a way to use hits the earth from the sun. However, we need to actually use it. Then all 15 billion of us can live in mansions, and drive flying SUVs. The real psychopaths are people like you who wish to deny people the right to live their lives to fullest. The best way to reduce mineral scarcity (and this is proven over and over) is to allow entrepreneurs and capitalists to find new methods of mining, recycling, and substitution of materials, and sue them if they dump acid down the drain.

Re:Someone owns stocks in major helium producers (1, Troll)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804852)

well, as long as the 'psychopaths' can defend themselves from such attempts at apparently taking their stuff away, they'll be fine. Also why does it seem to me that you are defining people with means as psychopaths?

Yet another question is: what's the reason to live at all, if you can't abuse a few people, at least a little and more importantly what's the reason for an entire humanity to live if it can't make it possible for at least some specimens to enjoy all that life has to offer to the fullest extent possible?

And finally don't you mean 'sociopath'?

Re:Someone owns stocks in major helium producers (3, Interesting)

eparker05 (1738842) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804914)

If only the Romans had been more conservative with their wood resource use! If they had carefully controlled the cutting of trees and rationed the wood, they could have theoretically never run out, and we would still be using the burning of wood as our primary energy source today.

The next energy and/or mineral gap is always just around the bend, and while prices are cheap, people never develop (or find) alternatives. I agree that we should not be keeping the helium price artificially low, but don't think that we should go into crisis rationing mode just yet.

There are alternatives on the horizon (using NMR as an example since I am familiar with it): high temperature superconductors exist that some day will be able to make powerful magnetic fields while cooled only by nitrogen. More sensitive detectors and better analysis methods can yield more data from weaker magnets. There are solutions just waiting to be found. If we ran out of helium today, I promise you that organic chemists would still be using NMR in a year.

Re:Someone owns stocks in major helium producers (3, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804944)

The best way to reduce mineral scarcity, eliminate the psychopaths who consume resources beyond all reason, no more mega yachts, mansions, private jets et al. the planet can no longer cope with them.

So when are you going to kill yourself? I believe that would do more to reduce mineral scarcity than killing off the producers.

Re:Someone owns stocks in major helium producers (4, Insightful)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#32805148)

"The best way to reduce mineral scarcity, eliminate the psychopaths who consume resources beyond all reason, no more mega yachts, mansions, private jets et al. the planet can no longer cope with them."

Nice rage, but the above listed uses consume a trivial amount of resources compared to more mundane but widespread consumption.

"the rest of us the majority still should consider all future generations of humanity in the way we use and abuse our mutual resources, not just the next but thousands of years even hundreds of thousands of years into the future."

Precisely why should we do this?

All things in DC rise with taxes (0, Troll)

zazenation (1060442) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804362)

What this seems to say is that the price of helium has historically been inversely proportional to the televised quantity of hot air generated by Washington pols. Now they're changing the rules so it is directly proportional to Washington gas emissions. This includes all gases generated by any Washington orifice -- lighter than air or not...

I might know a guy who has helium... (1)

jappleng (1805148) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804386)

Although the answer to that all depends on what you have to offer. Incidentally it pays to be a clown, a mad mad clown that is. MWAHAHAHAHAHHAHAA! *honkahonka!*

Health care impact (5, Informative)

adamwpants (858079) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804392)

I work in respiratory care. We administer a 70%/30% mix of helium and oxygen, called Heliox. It is a low-density gas, making it easier to breathe for people with airway obstructions (such as asthma, throat cancer, etc.).

The rising cost of helium may make Heliox prohibitively expensive.

Just wanted to share that helium is for more than balloons.

Re:Health care impact (1)

JDeane (1402533) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804446)

Just switch to Nitrous Oxide!!!

"I feel funny.... is this real life?"

Re:Health care impact (3, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804462)

Not to mention the use of superconducting(and thus typically liquid helium cooled) magnets in medical diagnostic imaging and medical research.

No helium, No MRIs.

Re:Health care impact (1)

The Grim Reefer2 (1195989) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804666)

Not to mention the use of superconducting(and thus typically liquid helium cooled) magnets in medical diagnostic imaging and medical research.

No helium, No MRIs.

Not quite. There are still low field permanent magnets. Not ideal I grant you, but not the end of MRI either.

Re:Health care impact (4, Informative)

Black Gold Alchemist (1747136) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804886)

Newer ones are being based on MgB2 and liquid hydrogen.

Re:Health care impact (2, Insightful)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804466)

Since the only choices we've allowed ourselves are 1) use it all up now; 2) impose Strict Market Discipline, we're just going to have to go with the latter since the former is clearly nuts.

Re:Health care impact (1)

nomadic (141991) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804510)

Since the only choices we've allowed ourselves are 1) use it all up now; 2) impose Strict Market Discipline, we're just going to have to go with the latter since the former is clearly nuts.

Unfortunately the libertarian bent of the louder politicians (and slashdotters) makes option 2 pretty unlikely.

Re:Health care impact (2, Insightful)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804684)

I'd hardly say that government regulations that are artificially deflating the price of helium is 'libertarian'.

Given the description, the helium is a natural resource 'owned' by the government. A proper libertarian response is that the government should get the maximum price it can get for it. IE the most benefit.

As mentioned, 20X the price might be a little less money in our pocket now, but it's much more later. Fusion plants aren't going to provide sufficient quantities any time soon.

Re:Health care impact (1)

Black Gold Alchemist (1747136) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804866)

Or 3) allow the price to rise, causing entrepreneurs to search for solutions.

Re:Health care impact (4, Insightful)

turing_m (1030530) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804500)

The rising cost of helium may make Heliox prohibitively expensive.

Only if you don't recover it. At some price for helium, sucking the exhalations into a compressor, bottling it and selling it back to the gas company for reprocessing becomes cost effective. I don't imagine that recovering the helium would be difficult given the difference in densities between helium and other gases.

Re:Health care impact (5, Informative)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804550)

Any real use of helium for cryogenics is usually combined with helium recapturing lines. It would be _insane_ to let it go up into the air, even at todays prices.

Re:Health care impact (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804574)

I work in respiratory care. We administer a 70%/30% mix of helium and oxygen, called Heliox. It is a low-density gas, making it easier to breathe for people with airway obstructions (such as asthma, throat cancer, etc.).

The rising cost of helium may make Heliox prohibitively expensive.

Are you already using rebreathers? That's one way of holding down costs. Another way is to find another light gas to form your low density mix.

Re:Health care impact (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804594)

Except for some...interesting ;) secondary properties, would a 70%/30% mix of hydrogen and oxygen be equally fine as far as human organism is concerned? (hm, given controlled enough usage style?)

Re:Health care impact (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32804676)

Only if you don't mind the highly exothermic reaction between the two gases causing the human to explode. Oh, the Hindenburgity!

Do you hear that? (5, Funny)

Adrian Lopez (2615) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804404)

It's as if a million chipmunk voices suddenly cried out in terror and turned into baritones.

Biomass - a renewable resource (0)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804410)

Helium is the second most abundant [wikipedia.org] element in the universe. If we need it, just go get it. If someone could come up with a rocket that could burn carbon-based politician gas bags, we'd solve this problem in no time.

Re:Biomass - a renewable resource (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32804448)

It may be abundant, but it doesn't always make it obtainable. Carving out a bit of the Sun in search of helium stocks might be a tad bit impractical.

Shipping and handling is a bitch... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804484)

Best case, being outside of our puny little gravity well tends to add 4 or 5 zeros to the terrestrial price....

Re:Biomass - a renewable resource (2, Insightful)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804572)

Yes, it is. And hydron is the simply most common ones. Why are we then not all just using hydrogen for power?
Ding Ding Ding. Our planet is not a typical case of "universe", dimwitt.

Our helium sources are _very_ scarce, as it will depart our atmoshpere in quite a short time, geologically speaking. We have to make do with the results of radioactive decay down below, and even then you need something like long-time accumulation in natural gas fields to get usable helium fractions.

Re:Biomass - a renewable resource (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32804920)

I hear helium also makes a nice "woosh!" as it rises over your head.

Re:Biomass - a renewable resource (2, Insightful)

v1 (525388) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804690)

"abundant" does not equal "easily available". The Sun for instance, is "relatively" close to us in space, and contains more helium than we could ever use, many million times over. Stars tend to have a lot of that and hydrogen in them. But it's not easy for us to get, obviously.

The problem with helium is it's light enough to escape earth's gravity well, and drift off into space. Because of that, it's not in our atmosphere anywhere in any concentration. So we have to get it from the ground. Looks like the main source is natural gas wells. So all we need to renew our helium supply is more dinosaurs.

emotional appeal? (1, Insightful)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804414)

It sounds more like a sound moral argument to me, but I guess anything which doesn't have a "$", "€", or similar symbol attached to it doesn't count as rational anymore.

Re:emotional appeal? (5, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804554)

There certainly is a moral element; but helium is a very special case, virtually unique among the elements of human relevance.

Once it hits the atmosphere, it is inert enough not to combine with anything and light enough to diffuse into space. Game over. No mining the garbage dumps for this one. The only "recycling" that occurs is that in the sense that, if a piece of hardware hasn't been breached, you can remove the helium it contains before decommissioning it.

The only earthly source of the stuff is assorted alpha-emitting radioactives, since an alpha particle is just a helium nucleus in need of electrons. Very slow. The only viable sources are places where it has had millions of years to be trapped underground, often with natural gas deposits. Once those are tapped out, we wait until some more alpha emitters decay.

Helium also has some unique properties. There are other inert gasses(nitrogen is inert enough for many purposes, argon is even more so and doesn't float into space), there are other lift gasses(hydrogen, hot air); but if you want very cold fluids, liquid helium is it. Game over. Nothing better available. Hope you guys can figure out high-temp superconductors that don't quench at trivial magnetic field strengths before you run out...

Virtually every other element or chemical of which we might "run out" we actually mean "run out of really inexpensive supplies". They also tend to be recyclable(in the case of elements and some chemicals) or synthesizable(if you have the energy), and they stay within our gravity well pretty much no matter what you do.

Re:emotional appeal? (1)

Pentium100 (1240090) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804638)

Isn't it possible to manufacture helium with fusion? I mean fusion is still not good enough for producing electricity, but it should be able to make helium using hydrogen and electricity.

Re:emotional appeal? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32804872)

This is stupid scaremongering. We make plenty of Helium by radioactive decay - that's an alpha particle! It's usually found in natural gas reservoir when the sealing rocks have certain common characteristics. But due to decline in the West Texas natural gas production, we're seeing less of it. Drilling more for natural gas will solve the He supply problem but people like a little scaremongering - there's still a shitload of He trapped in gas fields all over the world.

Drill, baby, drill.

Facts (4, Informative)

DCFusor (1763438) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804936)

Most helium is released from nat gas flares in oil wells, as at current prices it's not worth recovering either if the well is far from concentrated "civilization". And as the parent mentions, that's it, it's lost. Yes, you can make helium with fusion, and I even do it here, but in amounts that make a microgram look like large lots. Lemme know when a fusion reactor makes energy gain -- I'm working it, but....not yet. www.coultersmithing.com has some info there. Helium 3 is in far shorter supply (always, but now it's really critical) and it is because the DHS has taken it all for portal neutron detectors -- you can't buy it as a civilian (or the detectors new) for ANY price whatever. Sometimes can find it in a used detector, that's about it, and CERN is crying because they need that for their superfluid He dilution coolers. This is a separate but also important issue -- 3He is a decay product from Tritium mostly and we just don't do much of that anymore. There's only a tiny amount in natural He, which of course we're just letting whiz into space because we don't want to pay the rent to store the stuff.

Re:emotional appeal? (3, Interesting)

Rockoon (1252108) | more than 4 years ago | (#32805022)

Agreed.

He has basically put all the badness of using up a resource on the single generation variant. Its as if its not bad when more-than-one generation depletes a resource...

I've got news for him. The generation that doesnt have access to the resource doesnt give a fuck how many generations it took to use it up.

Microsoft (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32804416)

I do NOT want Microsoft anywhere near my computer, my game console, my instant messaging system, my email accounts, my banking, my online transactions, ATMs, my cellphone, my car.

DO NOT WANT.

When you acquire a smaller company, I don't start using your products because it now says "Microsoft". In fact, if I'm using a product or a service from a company which you buy out, I stop using said products or services completely. You buy companies, not their userbase.

P.S.: The only Microsoft product I would use is toilet paper. Feel free to put your logo on every sheet.

I RTFA and... (3, Funny)

martyb (196687) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804436)

I RTFA and am pleased to report that it was *really* light reading! ;)

the coming century (2, Interesting)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804476)

will all be about the fight to successfully manage the earth: its climate, its species, its fisheries, its water, its minerals, its energy sources etc

and those who just want to consume, consume, consume, with no forethought, and then: "hey, where'd all the stuff go?"

but in some areas of this country, when you talk about managing things intelligently and prudently, you're some sort of anti-american fascist liberty destroying socialist

why is that?

if that sort of propaganda is allowed to prevail, our grandchildren are going to live (or rather, mostly die) in some awfully brutal conditions

but just keep ignoring the fish stock depletions, the aquifer depletions, the increased consumption of oil that just gets deeper to dig up, the slowly rising thermostat... nah, none of things are problems! keep partying see? anyone who wants to manage these things is just a killjoy evil liburul!

Re:the coming century (5, Insightful)

fotbr (855184) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804810)

why is that?

I live in redneckland. It sucks at times and is great at others. But maybe I can give you some insight as a result.

1) Often, "intelligently and prudently" comes across as very condescending, and that doesn't sit well with most people, regardless of their intelligence or social status.

2) People around here have a very high distrust of anyone that doesn't believe the same as them. Yes, that means religion, and their belief that anyone who isn't their particular variety of christian is automatically "wrong" in some manner. Add to that the fact that most people haven't ever lived far from where they grew up, and a distrust of most "big city folk", and a paranoia of those from either the east or west coasts.

3) Most of the things you mention aren't an issue around here, so there's also a big case of "out of sight out of mind". Fishing? That's a way to spend the afternoon drinking beer; not a way of life (though some of the bass fishermen would call those fightin' words). Aquifer depletion? Not a huge deal here (yet). Oil? Again, not produced here, and no one will care until it all goes away.

4) Things that work in the more densely populated area simply won't work here. Small commuter cars are great in cities and suburbs. A better system of public transit and light rail would be completely awesome to have. But they really don't work out in the rural areas. So various proposals that have been made regarding high taxes on gas, or on "gas guzzlers" (specifically light trucks), are seen as directly and unfairly targeting them.

5) Incomes out here are very low compared to the coasts. So while people in Boston or LA may not think much of something that might cost an extra $1000 / year per family, people out here often cannot afford it. When a family of 4 are barely getting by on an income under $30k before taxes are taken out, ANY increase is difficult. Being told "it's worth it" by someone out east making 6 figures, with no kids, and a wife/husband/partner who ALSO makes a nearly 6 figure salary, doesn't go over very well.

6) Lastly, when they try to make any of these points, they're often dismissed with little thought because they often don't come across as terribly educated. So when they find anyone willing to listen, they can be fiercely loyal.

I'm not saying any of these make people around here right (indeed, I often disagree with them on just about everything), just trying to explain part of what's going on.

Re:the coming century (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32805116)

why is that?

I live in redneckland. It sucks at times and is great at others. But maybe I can give you some insight as a result.

1) Often, "intelligently and prudently" comes across as very condescending, and that doesn't sit well with most people, regardless of their intelligence or social status.

Too bad. Sometimes telling your kids what to do comes off as "condescending" - I'm sure the average resident of Dumbfuckistan has a pretty good idea what to do with uppity kids.

2) People around here have a very high distrust of anyone that doesn't believe the same as them. Yes, that means religion, and their belief that anyone who isn't their particular variety of christian is automatically "wrong" in some manner. Add to that the fact that most people haven't ever lived far from where they grew up, and a distrust of most "big city folk", and a paranoia of those from either the east or west coasts.

Add in hatred of anyone who isn't white and heterosexual, and you've just about got it. However, exactly how much should the rest of the world bend over backwards to accommodate their invisible friend?

3) Most of the things you mention aren't an issue around here, so there's also a big case of "out of sight out of mind". Fishing? That's a way to spend the afternoon drinking beer; not a way of life (though some of the bass fishermen would call those fightin' words). Aquifer depletion? Not a huge deal here (yet). Oil? Again, not produced here, and no one will care until it all goes away.

Once again, this sounds like a problem for the residents of Dumbfuckistan to solve, not something for the rest of the world to have to work around.

4) Things that work in the more densely populated area simply won't work here. Small commuter cars are great in cities and suburbs. A better system of public transit and light rail would be completely awesome to have. But they really don't work out in the rural areas. So various proposals that have been made regarding high taxes on gas, or on "gas guzzlers" (specifically light trucks), are seen as directly and unfairly targeting them.

Here's an idea: stop maintaining and building roads that lead to places that can't afford them. How's that for "free markets"? Sorry Cooter, if you want to live in the boonies, better start saving up for the road.

5) Incomes out here are very low compared to the coasts. So while people in Boston or LA may not think much of something that might cost an extra $1000 / year per family, people out here often cannot afford it. When a family of 4 are barely getting by on an income under $30k before taxes are taken out, ANY increase is difficult. Being told "it's worth it" by someone out east making 6 figures, with no kids, and a wife/husband/partner who ALSO makes a nearly 6 figure salary, doesn't go over very well.

Maybe if the family of 4 had stopped voting Republican a generation ago there'd actually be some decent-paying jobs left. If you can't afford to live in the sticks, MOVE. After all, fine upstanding politicians from all over Dumbfuckistan will tell you that unemployment and welfare just make people lazy!

6) Lastly, when they try to make any of these points, they're often dismissed with little thought because they often don't come across as terribly educated. So when they find anyone willing to listen, they can be fiercely loyal.

I'm not saying any of these make people around here right (indeed, I often disagree with them on just about everything), just trying to explain part of what's going on.

You've also succeeded in explaining why we shouldn't spend a DOLLAR more to "preserve the rural way of life". As a city resident, I'm sick and tired of watching my tax dollars go to subsidize the bucolic existence of people who hate me and everyone I know - and I'm even sicker of watching those same people accuse others of being "parasites" and "welfare queens" (bonus fact: most federal cash assistance goes to rural areas, despite the Raygun fantasy of Latifah in her Cadillac).

EETS TEH BOOOGEYMAN! (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804846)

So what have you done? That is, other than post rants against something straight out of Amalgamated Stereotypes, Ltd?

Re:the coming century (1)

witherstaff (713820) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804908)

When will fox news start a heliumgate discussion how the science is skewed, we have yet to reach peak helium, and that humans couldn't possibly be at fault for this problem?

Re:the coming century (1)

Black Gold Alchemist (1747136) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804964)

Actually, I have a really really good solution to this problem. There could be resource tokens, made of cheap materials, like paper. You could trade them for metal, oil, land, etc. You could also trade them for people's time and skills. Scarcer resources could be worth more resource tokens. If you dump acid overboard, you have to pay resource tokens. Maybe these tokens could have pictures of presidents on them or some- oh wait. Money. It will manage those resources for us.

but just keep ignoring the fish stock depletions, the aquifer depletions, the increased consumption of oil that just gets deeper to dig up, the slowly rising thermostat

Trust me, many, many people (including me) are aware. They are searching for solutions, like solar arrays, desal plants, government-free recycling, etc. The public will not notice the change. Some people will get rich (hopefully me) and we and the planet will be okay. If not, the prices will force people to cut back and we'll be safe.

Re:the coming century (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32805016)

but in some areas of this country, when you talk about managing things intelligently and prudently, you're some sort of anti-american fascist liberty destroying socialist

why is that?

Because the bible says that you don't have to worry about it (Matthew 6:34, 2 Peter 3:10-13). If you do worry about it, you are clearly doubting the bible and are therefore satan. And the American constitution demands that subjects^W citizens defame satan because this is a christian nation.

I found the solution (2, Funny)

ckedge (192996) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804530)

1. Bottle helium
2. ...
3. Profit

FUCK YEAH.

Re:I found the solution (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804580)

0. Buy bottle-making companies.
1-3. (your plan here)
4. More profits!

Good times gone soon... (1)

adosch (1397357) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804578)

The days of sounding like an oompa-loompa with old birthday balloons are over! Back to plugging my nose.

Re:Good times gone soon... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32805068)

You're thinking of the munchkins. Oompa-loompas had more of a baritone.

The real question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32804656)

How much does he stand to benefit from the immediate rise of helium prices? If his gain is negligible maybe he actually cares. If not, maybe he is just trying to start arbitraging. This is the era of parasitic individualism where people will sell out professional reputations in order to live comfortably into the future while everyone else suffers. As a result, we must be wary the motive.

Whew! (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32804834)

Well...I'm GLAD I have a 1200cc/min hydrogen generator then. I've been making hydrogen balloons for years with it. I take them outside and blow them up...or inhale them to sound funny...Should have seen what I did yesterday for the 4th....

I guess I could use them for children's birthday parties huh?? Just hope some little girl doesn't think she's cute and rubs it in her hair to make it staticy and BOOM!!! I'm kidding. I guess b*day parties will just have to be dull with no balloons that float.

Here's a tip: If you want to inhale hydrogen but not kill brain cells and get light-headed, then mix the oxygen with it that you're also getting from electrolysis. Then you have 66.6% hydrogen and 33.3% oxygen. That's MORE O2 than you get from the air!! Just DON'T get a spark near you! Your lungs (and you) would seriously explode since it's mixed together...the reaction would seriously back up down your throat and into your lungs and you would explode everywhere. You wouldn't get the "fire-breathing effect" that works only if there's no oxygen in your lungs.

No problem (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804876)

Pipeline to Jupiter.

Sheesh. Wake me when you have a *real* problem.

There's an inexhaustible supply just 1 AU away (3, Funny)

mykos (1627575) | more than 4 years ago | (#32804954)

But you have to harvest it from a giant fusion reactor with the biggest gravity well in the solar system

the good news is: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32805186)

the race for controlled fusion just got a much needed shot in the arm.

If helium and gasoline are the two staples that you cannot do without,you are a rare breed indeed.

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