Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Congress Reaches Agreement ... On Helium

timothy posted about a year ago | from the this-is-your-voice-on-helium dept.

Earth 255

Despite the wrangling that's resulted in a government shut-down, Congress managed last week to agree on one thing: Helium. Reader gbrumfiel writes: "The U.S. holds vast helium reserves which it sells to scientists and private industry. According to NPR, a new law was needed to allow the helium to continue to flow. Congress passed it late last week, but only after a year-long lobbying effort and intense debate (and in the end, Senator Ted Cruz opposed the measure). Can a new bipartisanship rise out of this cooperation? Or will hot air prevail on Capitol Hill? (Insert your helium joke here.)" Apparently, helium is not yet so scarce that it's not available in balloons at the grocery store.

cancel ×

255 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Balloons (3, Informative)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about a year ago | (#45001667)

Children's balloons use recycled or low grade helium which can't be used for other more worthy purposes. It's not really a waste.

Re:Balloons (4, Funny)

somersault (912633) | about a year ago | (#45001687)

What could be more worthwhile than sounding like a chipmunk for 10 seconds?

Re:Balloons (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45001745)

sounding like a chipmunk for 20 seconds.

Re:Balloons (5, Funny)

plover (150551) | about a year ago | (#45001813)

Laughing at the guy who tried to sound like a chipmunk for 30 seconds, but passed out and fell over!

Re: Balloons (1)

jd2112 (1535857) | about a year ago | (#45001819)

Please. If I have to sit through another Alvin and the Chipmunks movie I'll scream!

Re: Balloons (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45002469)

Please. If I have to sit through another Alvin and the Chipmunks movie I'll scream!

... in a high-pitched voice.

Re:Balloons (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year ago | (#45002451)

According to August Strindberg, Iron and Sulfur [strindbergandhelium.com] .

Re:Balloons (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year ago | (#45001737)

..replace can't with "too expensive right now".

anyways, come up with that fusion already so there'll be some use for it.

Re:Balloons (2, Insightful)

Sockatume (732728) | about a year ago | (#45001757)

"Children's balloons use recycled or low grade helium which too expensive right now be used for more worthy purposes."

What?

Re:Balloons (5, Funny)

Russ1642 (1087959) | about a year ago | (#45001815)

As you know, gases are composed of atoms or molecules that are constantly bumping into one another. After a while these collisions can cause dents in the atoms causing them to lose their shine. While ok for balloons and such, medical and aerospace applications require new shiny helium atoms.

Re:Balloons (1)

gameboyhippo (827141) | about a year ago | (#45001839)

It's called "balloon air". Supposedly it is the byproduct of helium used for scientific and medical purposes. It's not pure helium. Personally I'm not sure if this is lobbying or true. It certainly sounds plausible.

Re:Balloons (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about a year ago | (#45001869)

I get that there's a lower grade of helium, but I can't make hide nor hair of what gl4ss was trying to say.

Re:Balloons (2)

somersault (912633) | about a year ago | (#45001909)

Because you can still extract the helium from "low grade" sources - it's just not worth it unless you get a good return on the cost of extracting it.

Re:Balloons (2)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year ago | (#45001967)

the helium in balloons isn't as far as I know any different isotope or magically soiled. just that purifying it costs a bit. it could be used for the purposes which require pure helium, if it was purified.

Re:Balloons (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45002245)

In some cases it's not so much the percentage of Helium that differentiates 'Balloon Gas' from the Helium gas used for medical/scientific puposes (although that is a factor), it's that they can tell you what the other stuff is.

i.e. Balloon gas = 90% helium, 10% no idea, might kill you, might not, no guarantees.
'Pure' Helium = 95% Helium, 2% x, 1.7%y, 1.3%z, manufacturer says it won't kill you if you use it safely according to their directions.

(Well, this is what I was told by a model airship enthusiast several years ago - could easily be wrong).

Re:Balloons (1)

gameboyhippo (827141) | about a year ago | (#45002109)

Ah... What threw me off was that you quoted AmiMoJo rather than gl4ss. I wasn't sure what gl4ss was saying either.

Re:Balloons (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45001837)

Low grade helium? What could possibly be wrong with helium? Does it have an extra neutron or something?
Seriously, I'd like to know. Perhaps it's contaminated with some other gas that's too difficult to separate...

Re:Balloons (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45001991)

Low percentage helium mixture would be a better name. I'm guessing its hard to remove from a mix, because it doesn't react with much. Noble gas and all that. They should just use hydrogen, it worked for the Hindenburg.

Re:Balloons (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45002195)

But if it is just mixed with air (and balloon grade helium still only has ~5% impurity), you don't need the helium to react, just everything else. The only problem is when you need really high purity and the impurities are other noble gases, which then involves passing the gas over a cold filter that condenses the heavier noble gases. Even the latter is pretty straightforward, just requires energy that is pointless to pay if you can just get the purer stuff from elsewhere cheap.

Re:Balloons (1)

DeathToBill (601486) | about a year ago | (#45002473)

Other inert gases like, say, Nitrogen?

Re:Balloons (1)

mark-t (151149) | about a year ago | (#45002667)

Nitrogen isn't inert.

Re:Balloons (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45002561)

Low percentage helium mixture would be a better name.

Helium Light? Diet Helium? Helium Zero?

Re:Balloons (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45002077)

Corporatist propaganda, more likely. Helium is extracted from natural gas - and that's a damn sight lower grade than 'balloon air'. No, this is just another example of whistling past the 'graveyard' of global resource exhaustion.

Re:Balloons (2)

DeathToBill (601486) | about a year ago | (#45002521)

Sort of. The US government paid for a lot of helium to be extracted from natural gas and has been sitting on a big reserve for a long time. For a decade or so now they have been selling it below cost to encourage science applications etc. So the cost of extracting from natural gas is above the current 'market' price of scientific helium - but only because the 'market' is a single seller who is selling below cost.

What will happen when that reserve is exhausted is uncertain. The price of helium will rise, but it's not clear how much. Probably quite a lot at first, but it will probably also settle down as new producers come online.

Re:Balloons (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45002089)

Balloon grade helium is still 90-95% pure typically. The only reason it is "waste" is because helium is so cheap to get already refined, there is no need to refine it. It is still a symptom of helium prices being really low, at all grades. It is not like helium comes out of the ground at 99.995% pure, and it is not like all science work needs the high purity stuff. Depending on the exact impurities, the helium can be purified with just activated charcoal sometimes, or other times it needs to be separated cryogenicly when there is a large neon impurity.

Re:Balloons (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45002315)

or other times it needs to be separated cryogenicly when there is a large neon impurity.

And in many cases this part comes for "free" because the customer wants it as a liquid, and many cases it is liquefied to make transportation and storage cheaper by the gas supply company. Considering the substantial difference in boiling point between helium and components of air, even neon, this step can be easily done by any place that has the liquefaction equipment.

Re:Balloons (0)

circletimessquare (444983) | about a year ago | (#45002095)

that doesn't make any sense

it's a gas. it's an elemental gas. and a noble element at that. it can't even be chemically degraded

it's not like an old sweater whose threads have come loose. you can easily extract pure helium from mostly helium mixed with whatever: recycling

it's like you are saying "you can't recycle an aluminum can, you can only throw it out"

of course children's balloons are a waste of helium

Re:Balloons (4, Insightful)

DeathToBill (601486) | about a year ago | (#45002569)

It can be mixed with something else. Water isn't chemically degraded when it's mixed into sewage, either, but you don't go drinking it. You need to separate it first - or just drink other water that's already pure, since it's cheaper to do that than to purify sewage. This is exactly what is happening in the helium market.

Re:Balloons (0)

Entropius (188861) | about a year ago | (#45002135)

What does "low grade helium" mean? Is it the alphas or the electrons that get worn out?

It seems that chemically separating a gas whose chief property is not reacting with anything from other gases that are either very reactive or have a molecular weight different by an order of magnitude shouldn't be *that* hard...

Re:Balloons (1)

DeathToBill (601486) | about a year ago | (#45002589)

It means it is mixed with other stuff that's difficult enough to separate out that it's cheaper to buy new refined hydrogen than to refine the 'low grade helium'.

Re:Balloons (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year ago | (#45002183)

Children's balloons use recycled or low grade helium which can't be used for other more worthy purposes. It's not really a waste.

LOL!

It's not 100% helium, it's mixed with air to make it cheaper, but the idea that they couldn't separate it out is silly.

Also: What's "low grade" helium? Helium is an element, it's one of the few elements that can't be contaminated with anything - it has no stable compounds.

Separation? Medical/scientific helium is usually liquid. Helium liquifies at a different temperature than air so separation of helium from air would a trivial/automatic part of the cooling process (throw away everything that forms a puddle above -270 degrees K).

Re:Balloons (2)

DeathToBill (601486) | about a year ago | (#45002627)

You answered your own question; low grade helium has been mixed with air (or other gases). Not to make it cheaper; it is usually a waste product from other helium uses (and so it *is* cheaper than refined helium, but that's not the point).

And of course separation is possible, but it's more expensive than buying already-refined helium. This is because the US government has a large reserve of refined helium that it has been selling below cost for many years now, distorting the market.

Re:Balloons (1)

Hatta (162192) | about a year ago | (#45002347)

And helium cannot be enriched or purified? Is it really better to let a (practically) non-renewable resource escape into space than save it for when it becomes economical to refine?

Re:Balloons (1)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | about a year ago | (#45002587)

Whew! Thank goodness we aren't wasting it on something frivolous.

Thank god we have Ted Cruz (1)

TWiTfan (2887093) | about a year ago | (#45001679)

Thank god we have politicians in America willing to stand up for not doing their jobs.

Re:Thank god we have Ted Cruz (1)

intermodal (534361) | about a year ago | (#45001801)

Wait, keeping the US in the wholesale heilum business is a senator's job? I don't follow your logic here.

Re:Thank god we have Ted Cruz (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45002003)

Why not let private companies take care of selling helium? I mean, I'm definitely not one of those who think the free market is the best solution for everything, but I can't imagine just one reason why it shouldn't be in the case of helium.

Re:Thank god we have Ted Cruz (1)

intermodal (534361) | about a year ago | (#45002277)

The only reason for what we presently have as far as government involvment in the helium business is that the Strategic Helium Reserve was created for military reasons, and now we're simply selling off the stockpile. The stored quantity is massive. I think the government needs to get out of the business, but at the same time, I think it's doubtful that they are taking measures to make that possible.

Re:Thank god we have Ted Cruz (4, Interesting)

rujholla (823296) | about a year ago | (#45001859)

Note from TFA that the disagreement that Senator Cruz had with the bill was that he and the House supported the version of the bill that said that the money from Helium sales should go to defecit reduction and the bill that passed that he voted against had the money going for national parks and "environmental issues."

Re:Thank god we have Ted Cruz (4, Insightful)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | about a year ago | (#45001949)

So he voted against a bill that earmarked the funds in favor for a version that uses the funds for "deficit reduction" which is political speak for money into my pork project. Funding is fungible and no one knows how to use smoke and mirrors to hide budgeting irregularities like a congress person.

At least he didn't waste anyone's time by filibustering it and then voting for it immediately afterwards.

Re:Thank god we have Ted Cruz (4, Insightful)

rujholla (823296) | about a year ago | (#45002201)

Funny. I feel that environmental issues is political speak for putting money into pork projects like Solyndra.

Re:Thank god we have Ted Cruz (0, Flamebait)

operagost (62405) | about a year ago | (#45002241)

So he voted against a bill that earmarked the funds in favor for a version that uses the funds for "deficit reduction" which is political speak for money into my pork project.

Thanks, Captain Democrat, but national parks and "environmental issues" ARE pork. Some states have more parks than others, and for those who do it has great pork potential. The same for "environmental issues", which today means subsidies for solar panels from failed corporations like A123 and Solyndra.

Re:Thank god we have Ted Cruz (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45002251)

So now deficit reduction is a pork project but national parks aren't? Wow. Just wow. No wonder we can't find a common ground between the goose steppers of the two major parties when that's the kind of rhetoric being thrown around.
 
And don't get me wrong, I'm for national parks. If the government is going to step outside of the constitution and spend my dime I think parks are a good place to do it. Better than feeding the unwilling-to-work masses with HoHos, cheap vodka and smokes. But the bottom line is that the nation has a crisis on its hands that so far has been covered up by a couple generations of administrations using creative accounting and flowery language. When is America going to wake up to what it has become and who is paying for it?

Re:Thank god we have Ted Cruz (3, Insightful)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | about a year ago | (#45002687)

So now deficit reduction is a pork project but national parks aren't?

National parks have a fixed budget. For FY14 they only requested $2.6 billion dollars (an increase of $ 56.6 million dollars from last year). Even with this budget they had to lower their employment levels by 242 FTE (basically a labor force reduction of approximately 242 people). The NPS manages 84.4 million acres of protected lands spread across every state in the US. They existed since 1916 and their total operating budget is barely a blip on the radar inside a $3.8 trillion dollar budget. Since 42 national parks have or will soon have natural gas wells, it seems only fair that the national park system have some financial benefit from having to monitor these projects (Helium is extracted from natural gas, especially from states like Wyoming where the Grand Tetons are located).

Pork projects tend to be a short-term investment for the benefit of a very small region. Like a new bridge in Alaska, Light Industrial Zone (with only a single customer) in a southern state, a project to document the history of minority colleges in the deep south, or 22 very expensive fighter jets that the DOD says they don't need.

"Deficit reduction" actually means if we get 16 billion dollars of income from helium, we have 16 billion dollars to spend on anything we like before we reach that imaginary debt ceiling.

You didn't notice they used the term "deficit reduction" instead of "debt reduction". If it was for debt reduction then all the money would go towards the principal of debt already owed. This is not the case.

Dispensing our reserves? (0)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year ago | (#45001683)

I'm not sure how I feel about this. Does every competing hospital in my region need to run its own MRI machine(and yes, that's the biggest use of helium) wasting dozens of kilograms of liquid helium a year? That won't lower the price of my procedure substantially, but it does throw away literal tons of the most irreplaceable resource on the planet.

When it counts, you can always count on congress to come together, and do the wrong thing.

Re:Dispensing our reserves? (2)

schneidafunk (795759) | about a year ago | (#45001719)

You consider using helium for MRI machines a waste?

Re:Dispensing our reserves? (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year ago | (#45001733)

I consider the number of machines we keep constantly running at super-cooled temperatures compared to the overall usage rate a waste.

Re:Dispensing our reserves? (1)

schneidafunk (795759) | about a year ago | (#45001767)

So you think the supply outweighs the demand, can you back that claim up? I was under the impression most hospitals were profitable and would not keep around an expensive machine if it weren't being used. However, I just did a quick search and cannot find any evidence either way.

Re:Dispensing our reserves? (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year ago | (#45001921)

Comparison to any other first world nation?

Re:Dispensing our reserves? (2)

plover (150551) | about a year ago | (#45001955)

Profitable doesn't imply that it isn't consuming a resource. It just means that the price charged covers the current costs of that resource, and still yields profits to the machine owners. As the supply of He dwindles, its price will go up, and MRI machines will become increasingly expensive to operate. Those costs will be passed to the patients (and their insurance companies.) Eventually the procedures will become unaffordable, and some hospitals will shut them down as a result.

Meanwhile, engineers will continue to look at alternate cooling solutions, such as liquid hydrogen. As hydrogen is the most abundant element on the planet, we won't be limited by availability. However, the hazards of liquid hydrogen will certainly increase risks, and those will come with their own costs.

So the lesson our management is taking away from all this is: get your MRIs now, while they're cheap! :-)

Re:Dispensing our reserves? (4, Informative)

necro81 (917438) | about a year ago | (#45001995)

One problem in American healthcare is that, despite designs to the contrary, there is little intelligence or justification behind capital equipment purchases. That is, a hospital is going to buy and use an MRI machine whether there is sufficient medical demand for it or not. As you say, such machines are expensive, and so in order to be profitable, they need to be used. At the same time, there is a phenomenon that excess capacity in a system, particularly medical systems, tends to get used whether it is needed or not. Result: more MRI scanners are out there than are strictly needed for diagnostic purposes. But, being out there, they tend to be used to their fullest capacity, which means a lot of unnecessary MRI scans going on, which is a lot of unnecessary medical spending. Hospital planners then look at all of their MRI machines being used 20 hours a day, and their competing hospital down the road installing a new machine, and suddenly decide that they, too, need a new machine.

This is one reason why the U.S. has per capita medical spending several times that of the rest of the developed world.

Re:Dispensing our reserves? (1)

Artifakt (700173) | about a year ago | (#45002329)

Federal grants to buy machines such as MRI mean getting one can be dirt cheap for a rural or poverty zone hospital. However, by act of congress, these grants are for the equipment only, not for training or paying for operators or maintainers, which still has to be funded locally, and is an ongoing cost that can eventually eclipse all the original costs. Having the item offline for lack of trained personnel by definition means actual working supply may or may not exceed demand, but if you include the stuff that is installed and just awaiting actual workers, (or in many cases, still sitting in crates), you get a much bigger number for supply. A real economic analysis would also have to include situations where scarce technician support means a hospital or clinic gets to run a machine for, say, 4 hours every second wednesday, and that one area tech gets paid (inefficiently) to drive to multiple locations each day..
        How this affects helium use is a different issue. I'd figure if it's not hooked up yet, it's not being kept supercooled while just sitting around, but if it's being run on a very part time basis, it probably entails a seriously less efficient use of Helium..

Re:Dispensing our reserves? (4, Funny)

TWiTfan (2887093) | about a year ago | (#45002125)

This is America. Competition among hospitals is a big part of what makes our healthcare system the envy of the developed world.

Re:Dispensing our reserves? (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year ago | (#45002287)

I've heard people say this not as a joke before.

Re:Dispensing our reserves? (1)

MancunianMaskMan (701642) | about a year ago | (#45002355)

This is America. ..our healthcare system the envy of the developed world.

I'm not envious, I live in the UK and our healthcare system works fine, thank you very much - and it's much cheaper per person.

The government is hard at work wrecking it at the moment but, the NHS being the biggest organisation in the country, a wrecking job like that takes time and it's still going strong.

Re:Dispensing our reserves? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45002359)

"the envy of the developed world"

Nope, I looked hard at the earlier posts, and I still don't get how this is funny.

It was supposed to be a joke, yes?

Re:Dispensing our reserves? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45001961)

I'm not sure how I feel about this. Does every competing hospital in my region need to run its own MRI machine

The reality is as long as America wants a for-profit health-care system, and each hospital is an independent entity, you're never going to fix this.

There is no room in the US for efficiencies in the system, because the system is being ran as a bunch of separate businesses. Nobody is going to stop running their very profitable MRI machine to conserve helium or for any other reason unless there's a benefit to them.

In the parts of the world which have a single-payer public system, they mostly shake their heads over the US and their attitude to this.

Your system is set up so that whoever can pay the most can get treated first, and the rest are welcome to suffer and go without.

For a 'civilized' country, America is shockingly indifferent to the fate of the rest of the populace. Which means any time the US does something altruistic, you have to assume there's a financial angle you're not seeing.

When it counts, you can always count on congress to come together, and do the wrong thing.

America has elevated being a selfish bastard to a religion. Which is what this is about is one group loudly saying "we should be completely selfish bastards and fuck the rest of the country".

Which in some circles makes your Republicans essentially terrorists because they're goal is to more or less undermine society and let the rest burn. In their mind, as long as the rich stay rich and government is small, the rest of the consequences are irrelevant.

So as long as your politicians idealize profits at any expense, and not giving a shit about people, this is what you'll get. And, quite frankly, what you deserve.

Re:Dispensing our reserves? (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year ago | (#45002453)

The only reason that politicians idolize profits is because the voters do the same, and it wins the election. It is a conditioned reflex. You won't get any better politicians without voting for them. They don't just waltz in and take over.

Re:Dispensing our reserves? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45002163)

If your region has enough hospitals that own a MRI then you should consider yourself lucky. You live in a area with enough population to justify having that many available. The next question becomes is there enough time available to meet the demand for the test? I lived in an area where the state hospital owned 2 MRIs. One that was fixed in place at the hospital, and a portable version that was trucked to all the small hospitals in the neighboring rural counties.

I don't know about your region, but in mine the state regulates the number of hospital beds in a county based on population. The permit is for a fixed number of beds and the state doesn't always update the total beds allowed fast enough to meet demand. There have been times where non-emergency procedures were delayed due to lack of room for overnight hospitalization. My point is that, at least in my area, hospitals are heavily regulated and they wouldn't have an MRI unless there was enough demand to justify the expense (aka will we be able to pay for it?).

Anyway there is a company out there (Cryogenics) that offers a "dry" method of super cooling the MRI magnets. The medical centers trade increased energy use in exchange for only needing to use a half liter of helium versus the typical 1700 liters of helium.

Re:Dispensing our reserves? (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year ago | (#45002221)

I'm not sure how I feel about this. Does every competing hospital in my region need to run its own MRI machine(and yes, that's the biggest use of helium) wasting dozens of kilograms of liquid helium a year? That won't lower the price of my procedure substantially, but it does throw away literal tons of the most irreplaceable resource on the planet.

When it counts, you can always count on congress to come together, and do the wrong thing.

If it's a closed system then none is wasted.

"Dozens of kilograms" is nothing, eg. look at how much The Mythbusters have wasted over the years....

Re:Dispensing our reserves? (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year ago | (#45002271)

They aren't closed systems. That's the end of that.

Re:Dispensing our reserves? (2)

MancunianMaskMan (701642) | about a year ago | (#45002419)

If He were a little more expensive, a helium recovery system would be economical. Those machines are feasible in most scientific institutions in Europe, University physics and chemistry departments typically share a mains of helium reflow pipes, leading to a huge rubber bladder, and when that's full (once a day or whatever) they spin up the compressors and liquify the stuff again.

Forgive my ignorance (1)

schneidafunk (795759) | about a year ago | (#45001699)

How did the U.S. start stockpiling helium? I see no mention in the article of the actual process for collecting and storing it.

Re:Forgive my ignorance (1)

Sven-Erik (177541) | about a year ago | (#45001771)

It is mostly a by product of production of natural gas [wikipedia.org] , but it can also be generated by radioactive ore.

The TL;DR answer to your question (2)

intermodal (534361) | about a year ago | (#45001863)

The Strategic Helium Reserve began in the early 20th century as a gas supply for airships, and because the prime source of coolant for the space/missile programs of the Cold War. Most of our helium is collected during natural gas production.

Re:Forgive my ignorance (1)

Victor_0x53h (1164907) | about a year ago | (#45001889)

The radio story I heard mentioned this stockpiling began WWI when zeppelins were a top-of-the-line and helium was safe in contrast to hydrogen.

Federal Helium Program [googleusercontent.com]

Re:Forgive my ignorance (1)

petermgreen (876956) | about a year ago | (#45002657)

Some natural gas reseves contain helium and if the price is right (how high the price has to be depends on how much helium is in the gas) that helium can be extracted from the natural gas by liquifying the other gasses in the mixture.

Many years ago the USA decided helium was strategically important for airships (and later nukes) and stockpiled it in a depleted gas well. However in 1995 they decided it was no longer strategically important enough to stockpile and started selling off the reserves.

YAY! I'm going diving next month. (3, Interesting)

olddoc (152678) | about a year ago | (#45001741)

I plan to do some deep Scuba dives next month and I will be breathing high quality, pure Helium mixed in with my Oxygen and Nitrogen to prevent Nitrogen narcosis at depth. I'm glad the supply will continue in the future and I hope there is a plan to replace what the US Government has stockpiled.

Re:YAY! I'm going diving next month. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45001829)

"I hope there is a plan to replace what the US Government has stockpiled."

Oh that's easy, there's loads of it *in the sun*.

Re:YAY! I'm going diving next month. (4, Funny)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a year ago | (#45001917)

We should sneak in at night and scoop it up. The sun will never know.

Re:YAY! I'm going diving next month. (1)

Artifakt (700173) | about a year ago | (#45002427)

Plus, Helium is a waste product of Hydrogen fusion. Getting it out of there should make the sun stay on the main sequence longer before converting to higher order fusion and becoming a Red Giant. Sounds like we could use all the Helium the sun's got, and save the solar system from the menace of bloated communist stellar conversion..

Re:YAY! I'm going diving next month. (1)

operagost (62405) | about a year ago | (#45002267)

The supply continues because of businesses mining natural gas, not the government stockpiling it. The government also stockpiles petroleum; does that mean the government is responsible for producing it?

Apparently, helium is not yet so scarce ... (2)

MouseR (3264) | about a year ago | (#45001831)

Apparently, helium is not yet so scarce that it's not available in balloons at the grocery store.

Depends where you look. Many outlets around the region of Montreal stopped selling helium balloons because of the scarcity. Some voluntarily due to local hospitals having difficulties keeping their MRIs runnings and some due to prices going up.

renewable resource (1)

schneidafunk (795759) | about a year ago | (#45001857)

If helium can be produced from renewable natural gas, for example landfills, why not sell off the entire stockpile?

Re:renewable resource (4, Informative)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a year ago | (#45001943)

Helium isn't produced from natural gas, it's found trapped underground in natural gas fields. So unless you can power a hydrogen fusion plant with renewable natural gas, we only have what we can find in the ground for the time being.

Re:renewable resource (2, Informative)

swillden (191260) | about a year ago | (#45002197)

Helium isn't produced from natural gas, it's found trapped underground in natural gas fields. So unless you can power a hydrogen fusion plant with renewable natural gas, we only have what we can find in the ground for the time being.

OTOH, the earth creates a great deal of new helium every year, as a byproduct of the decay of various radioactive elements in the crust and core. It's not an unlimited resource, but neither is it something we're easily going to deplete even though close to 100% of the helium we use for various purposes ends up being released into the atmosphere and floats off into space.

Re:renewable resource (2)

beernutmark (1274132) | about a year ago | (#45001973)

I am pretty sure that Helium is not produced from natural gas but is extracted from it. Helium is produced and trapped underground via radioactive decay and it happens to get trapped in the same areas as the natural gas gets trapped. The gases being produced in landfills via decay are not helium. Just because you have natural gas doesn't mean you have helium.

Re:renewable resource (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year ago | (#45002255)

I am pretty sure that Helium is not produced from natural gas

Not 100% sure...?

Re:renewable resource (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45002515)

No, it's just a theory based on empirical evidence. There is an alternate theory that says Helium is produced from natural gas by a process of divine respiration, but the evidence is lacking.

Re:renewable resource (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45002023)

Helium is an element. The only thing nearby that produces it is the sun. And it's not sharing.

Re:renewable resource (0)

schneidafunk (795759) | about a year ago | (#45002103)

I was under the impression it could be extracted from natural gas, which is made up of elements. The way they extract methane and propane from it. You are aware that we can get hydrogen and oxygen from water?

Re:renewable resource (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45002225)

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what failing chemistry and geology class (and probably physics, too) looks like.

Re:renewable resource (0)

schneidafunk (795759) | about a year ago | (#45002325)

Hmm, shouldn't feed the anonymous trolls but here you go jackass. http://www.naturalgas.org/overview/background.asp [naturalgas.org]

Trace amounts of He are in natural gas. You know natural gas is a chemical compound consisting of multiple elements?

Re:renewable resource (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45002463)

ou know natural gas is a chemical compound consisting of multiple elements?

Natural gas is not a single compound when it comes out of the ground, but a mixture of several different gases, which can vary from place to place. This is why you can have people talking about some natural gas being "sour" because that particular location has a high amount of hydrogen sulfide (which makes a mess of equipment). Just like having a landfill with no sulfur in it would produce gas without hydrogen sulfide, and landfill that doesn't already contain helium will not release helium in any noticeable quantity (unless it had a lot of radioactive waste).

The only reason natural gas in the ground has helium is because millions of years of slow radioactive decay via alpha particles produces helium that accumulates the same place other gases do (otherwise it is trapped in trace amounts or escapes). Renewable sources that produce some of the compounds found in natural gas in the ground won't be able to produce helium. Helium doesn't naturally form compounds, and it is not found in any significant quantity in organisms or trash, so there is no where for that helium to come from for renewable sources of hydrocarbons. You can stock pile large amounts of radioactive waste and get a very small amount of helium, but that process is very slow compared to finding stuff in the ground that had a long time to accumulate.

Re:renewable resource (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45002659)

Good job. Now explain how a elemental noble gas is produced from the renewable natural gas sources you mentioned. Perhaps some new type of bacteria capable of nuclear reactions in its metabolism? Seriously, a high school level of chemistry would sort you out. You can get hydrogen and oxygen from water because it is made of hydrogen and oxygen. Notice the lack of helium in any stable molecule. That's why you can't "make" it out of natural gas or anything else. You can separate it from natural gas, but it has to be there already. I would explain how it gets there, but I don't have time to bring you up to speed. Back to school with you!

Re:renewable resource (5, Informative)

circletimessquare (444983) | about a year ago | (#45002157)

you are free associating and winding up at an incongruous thought

helium is associated only with old, deep natural gas deposits. it collects there because radioactive elements decay deep in the earth, releasing helium, and that helium has to go somewhere. if it doesn't percolate up and vent into the atmosphere, it collects with likewise entrapped methane gas deposits

meanwhile, natural gas from landfills would not have this helium, as it is a much more shallow and much more recent source of methane, it hasn't been around long enough to gather very slowly formed byproducts of radioactive decay

Re:renewable resource (1)

necro81 (917438) | about a year ago | (#45002171)

Your ignorance that "helium comes from natural gas" is understandable, because it is a subtle point usually glossed over in most reporting on the subject.

Although abundant in the universe, helium on Earth comes from the radioactive decay of certain elements in bedrock, mainly uranium and thorium. The helium tends to migrate up to the surface and, eventually, wafts away into space. However, the helium can be trapped in certain geologic formations, such as salt domes, which also happen to be the kinds of places that trap natural gas and other fossil fuels. When we drill to get the natural gas, we extract the collected helium as well. Because helium has some value in the marketplace, some natural gas facilities separate out the helium, thereby making it available for use.

It is not the case that helium is created from the natural gas, we just happen to find them together geologically. You might find some helium offgassing from a landfill, but it wouldn't be because of the gas being produced from biologic breakdown. I suspect you wouldn't find very much helium in a landfill; not a commercially valuable amount, anyway.

Although helium is continuously generated in the Earth's crust from radioactive decay, it would be an overstatement to think of it being a renewable resource, just like it is an overstatement to say that (geologic) natural gas is renewable. The production of helium is both slow and widely distributed, so you would have a tough time collecting any useful amount if not for the fact that it can be captured and accumulated in geologic formations over eons. But once those formations are depleted, it'll take millions of years to refill.

Re:renewable resource (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45002247)

I believe the natural gas that contains helium come from areas with large deposits of uranium ore. I don't think your local landfill meets this condition.

Re:renewable resource (1)

LoRdTAW (99712) | about a year ago | (#45002399)

Pretty much all of the Earths helium slowly accumulated there via radioactive decay over millions or billions of years.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helium [wikipedia.org]

On Earth it is relatively rare - 0.00052% by volume in the atmosphere. Most terrestrial helium present today is created by the natural radioactive decay of heavy radioactive elements (thorium and uranium, although there are other examples), as the alpha particles emitted by such decays consist of helium-4 nuclei. This radiogenic helium is trapped with natural gas in concentrations up to 7% by volume, from which it is extracted commercially by a low-temperature separation process called fractional distillation. Helium is a finite resource and is one of the only elements with escape velocity, meaning that once released into the atmosphere, it escapes into space.

republicans should just shut up and play nice... (1, Flamebait)

crutchy (1949900) | about a year ago | (#45001891)

...cos if they let the democrats get their way the phony overstimulated US economy will implode that much quicker, all the keynesian bullshit can be shown as the total fraud that it is, and then a real free market recovery can commence in ernest.

as long as the world remains addicted to cheap keynesian money printing, central banking, price-fixing of counterfeit fiat money, and ever increasing government spending, deficits and debt, the burden on taxpayers (aka the working middle class) will always increase till they are pushed into poverty and everyone ends up dependent on government welfare except for the wealthy buddies of politicians in washington dc... which is pretty much where the ussr was before 1985

jfk said "communism has never come to power in a country that was not disrupted by war or corruption, or both" and he was right

Re:republicans should just shut up and play nice.. (3, Funny)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year ago | (#45001993)

"I'm cranky and off-topic. Listen to me because of how much I hate those I disagree with"

Re:republicans should just shut up and play nice.. (1)

crutchy (1949900) | about a year ago | (#45002031)

you must be a democrat

Re:republicans should just shut up and play nice.. (4, Funny)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year ago | (#45002087)

"I'm cranky, off-topic, and immediately conclude people who aren't as dumb as me are a category of people I hate."

Helium is not scarce at all (2)

cirby (2599) | about a year ago | (#45002005)

Helium production is just lacking. There is more than enough helium - at reasonable concentrations - in many natural gas fields to cover all of the demand on the planet for literally thousands of years, at current rates.

There are also some helium extraction plants either under construction or in the process of coming on line right now. There's a new one, in Qatar, which will account for 25% of the world's production when it's fully on line. Russia is expanding their own production, and India is starting to build helium extraction into their natural gas production lines.

The only thing that kept the big natural gas producers in the US from adding helium extraction equipment to their production stream was the artificially-low price mandated by the Federal helium reserve. Some US companies already have their extraction equipment in use, and others are starting to build them. It's not hard - basically 1920s tech.

Re:Helium is not scarce at all (3, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | about a year ago | (#45002563)

To be somewhat more precise, there isn't a mandated price, in the sense of formal price controls. But the federal helium reserve accumulated huge stockpiles, and has been slowly selling them off since 1996, which has kept the price low by flooding the market. On the one hand, that discourages private investment, but on the other hand, it's not clear it's entirely a bad thing: if we don't actually need this helium reserve lying around forever, selling it off slowly seems like a reasonable thing to do.

I wonder ... (0)

dbIII (701233) | about a year ago | (#45002105)

Is Ted Cruz on China's payroll or do they get this outcome for free?

Congress Agrees (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45002533)

That helium makes them all sound like Mickey Mouse.

The quickest way to extract helium (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year ago | (#45002555)

is *through the planet core*. So far, we've hardly scratched the surface, so to speak. The vast riches beneath the crust are there for the taking.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>