×

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!

Helium Crisis Approaching

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the no-more-squeaky-voices dept.

United States 501

vrmlguy writes "Within nine years the National Helium Reserve will be depleted, according to an article in Science Daily. It quotes Dr. Lee Sobotka, of Washington University in St. Louis: 'Helium is non-renewable and irreplaceable. Its properties are unique and unlike hydrocarbon fuels (natural gas or oil), there are no biosynthetic ways to make an alternative to helium. All should make better efforts to recycle it.' (The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a local article with quotes from Dr. Sobotka and representatives of the balloon industry.) On Earth, Helium is found mixed with natural gas, but few producers capture it. Extracting it from the atmosphere is not cost-effective. The US created a stockpile, the National Helium Reserve, in 1925 for use by military dirigibles, but stopped stockpiling it in 1995 as a cost-saving measure."

cancel ×
This is a preview of your comment

No Comment Title Entered

Anonymous Coward 1 minute ago

No Comment Entered

501 comments

Eddie knows where the ultimate helium supply is. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22033470)

Well, step aside my friend
I've been doing it for years
I say, sit on down, open your eyes
And open up your ears

Say
Put a tree in your butt
Put a bumblebee in your butt
Put a clock in your butt
Put a big rock in your butt
Put some fleas in your butt
Start to sneeze in your butt
Put a tin can in your butt
Put a little tiny man in your butt
Put a light in your butt
Make it bright in your butt
Put a TV in your butt
Put me in your butt
Everybody say

I, hey, that's, man, I ain't putting no trees in nobody's butt,
no bees in nobody's butt, putting nothing--
You must be out your mind, man,
y'all get paid for doing this?
Cause y'all gotta get some kind of money
Cause this don't sound like the kind of--
I'd rather golf, to be perfectly honest,
than put somethin in somebody's butt
to be truthful

Well step aside my friend and let me
show you how you do it
When big bad E just rock rock to it

Put a metal case in your butt
Put her face in your butt
Put a frown in your butt
Put a clown in your butt
Sit on down in your butt
Put a boat in your butt
Put a moat in your butt
Put a mink coat in your butt
Put everything in your butt
Just start to sing about your butt
Feels real good

QuantumG is a fag! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22033472)

you know it's true

No more helium? (5, Funny)

eldepeche (854916) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033474)

<chipmunk voice>Oh, no!</chipmunk voice>

Re:No more helium? (2, Funny)

Low5 (173930) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033618)

Sounds more like a lemming to me...or was that caused by hydrogen?

I suppose it would explain the subsequent explosions.

oh no! (4, Funny)

opusman (33143) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033482)

does this mean all the party balloons will be filled with hydrogen instead?

oh the humanity!

Look on the bright side (1)

denzacar (181829) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033544)

At least it will be easier to get rid of politicians in the future.

Just toss a lighted cigarette in the room. Let the balloons do the rest.

Re:Look on the bright side (4, Funny)

SirBruce (679714) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033936)

The balloons that drop at political events aren't filled with helium, smart guy. Otherwise they wouldn't DROP.

Re:oh no! (2, Funny)

Constantine XVI (880691) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033626)

It's not like any hydrogen-filled balloons have exploded or anything...

...wait.

Thermite paint (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033924)

It's not like any hydrogen-filled balloons have exploded or anything
I know you're sarcastically referring to the crash of the LZ 129 Hindenburg. Have there been any disasters of this magnitude where a hydrogen dirigible was not painted with thermite?

Already use hydrogen for balloons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22033768)

It's so funny that you said that because I already do fill my balloons with hydrogen. I go to a dollar store and get helium-quality balloons and then fill them with hydrogen from my hydrogen generator. Now, I don't have kids yet and never threw a kids' birthday party...that would be different, I'd either have to spend $10000000 on helium, or I'll spend like half that and buy all the kids flame-retardant blast suits.

HA! Better blow out those candles fast!! OMGosh!

Helium-3, the moon, and the space budget (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22033486)

If you gave helium to every nigger they'd all sound like Michael Jackson and Mike Tyson! Ha!

This is a capitalist economy (4, Insightful)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033490)

Remember to spell 'crisis' as 'business opportunity'.

Re:This is a capitalist economy (1, Funny)

slashbob22 (918040) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033560)

Remember to spell 'crisis' as 'business opportunity'.
Crisortunity?

Re:This is a capitalist economy (4, Funny)

aproposofwhat (1019098) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033622)

Proof by very large bribes. QED.

QED?

Quod Erat Donatum?

Re:This is a capitalist economy (1)

goldspider (445116) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033574)

You mean like Global Warming?

Re:This is a capitalist economy (1)

morcego (260031) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033898)

Exact.
Do you have any idea how much money some on the industry made with the whole replacement of CFC with other propellants business ?

Re:This is a capitalist economy (4, Funny)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033620)

Hey, why is there such a shortage of resources? Can't capitalism solve that? Is it that the damn Earth doesn't get this whole supply/demand thing? Aargh, we're living on a commie planet!

Re:This is a capitalist economy (1)

Tilzs (959354) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033664)

Oh don't worry, they will start to capture it when the price goes up.

helium toy balloons (3, Insightful)

TheLink (130905) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033496)

Then it does seem a waste to use it on those toy balloons as it's almost a sure thing the helium will be "lost".

Well as it gets scarce the prices will go up. Maybe some people should start hoarding now :).

Re:helium toy balloons (2, Funny)

weyesone (1216104) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033850)

My wife bought a small helium tank for my son's birthday in Nov. I'm going to keep it and sell short controlled hits for $50.00 a burst!

I have a solution: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22033500)

Let's get high!

What will we do at birthday parties? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22033506)

C'mon, there has to be more helium somewhere!

Have we tried looking in niggers' asses?

What? (1)

ozamosi (615254) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033512)

So, what you're saying is, basically, that if you use $product, and stop buying more of $product, you eventually run out of $product?

Amazing!

Re:What? (5, Insightful)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033578)

I don't think our society remembers being in a time of shortage - and I think that's a problem. It's easy to consume and throw away things if you don't think there will be a problem in getting more, and that attitude is pretty wasteful.

Re:What? (5, Funny)

dintech (998802) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033786)

I was going to mod you up but then I remembered I time when I didn't have mod points and thought better of it.

What?-A sticky situation. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22033862)

"It's easy to consume and throw away things if you don't think there will be a problem in getting more, and that attitude is pretty wasteful."

Ok fellow geeks, save your sperm.

Dr. Lee Sobotka's credentials (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22033514)

#1 question:
is he a nigger-lover?

Suckas gots to know, as they say in the vernacular.

Did you know? Helium and the periodic table (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22033520)

On a standard test, your average nigger has no fucking clue where helium is on the periodic table, or even what a periodic table is!

It's true, check it out!

We need more gas (5, Funny)

Malevolent Tester (1201209) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033524)

Build a refinery.

Re:We need more gas (4, Funny)

lonesome_coder (1166023) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033546)

Well, the thing is, we need more minerals, but we are also in the middle of an SCV crisis.

We're screwed.

Re:We need more gas (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22033980)

And don't forget to Spawn more overlords.

Re: We need more gas (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22033848)

Build a refinery.
...in your butt?

Time to ramp up fusion research (2, Interesting)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033526)

Want to replace the helium lost and create cleaner, more abundant energy? Now is a good time to pour some more money into fusion research to try and get over the hump and create sustainable fusion reactions.

Re:Time to ramp up fusion research (5, Funny)

Picass0 (147474) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033964)

1) Inhales balloon
2) ?????
3) <squeakyvoice> Profit! </squeakyvoice>

Re:Time to ramp up fusion research (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22033976)

Now is a good time to pour some more money into fusion research to try and get over the hump and create sustainable fusion reactions.

See, all you wingnuts! Iran does have the entire world's best interests in mind!

Where's the problem? (5, Insightful)

GreatBunzinni (642500) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033536)

Could someone please explain how exactly is there a crisis? I mean, the article states that the only thing that is happening is that the US national helium reserve is being depleted, an artificial stockpile program that stopped stockpiling due to being too expensive. Then it is stated that there are plenty sources of helium but no one bothers to take advantage of them due to the fact that at the moment it simply does not make anyone any money. So, to sum things up, no one bothers to store helium because it isn't cost effective and no one bothers to mine helium because there isn't any money to be made by it.

Doesn't that mean that the offer outweighs the demand by a landslide? Doesn't this mean that there were a lot of people smooching the US national helium reserve for a long time?

Re:Where's the problem? (5, Funny)

denzacar (181829) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033564)

Doesn't this mean that there were a lot of people smooching the US national helium reserve for a long time?
Yeah... there is always at least one jerk at every party who still thinks that is funny.

Re:Where's the problem? (4, Insightful)

Mysticalfruit (533341) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033742)

I was just thinking the same thing... once the stockpile is depleted and helium goes (some price way higher than it currently costs) some refiner will look at one of their waste product pipes labeled "Helium" and well... they'll get really happy and call a company about a cryopump and some storage tanks... shortage solved...

Re:Where's the problem? (5, Informative)

mcelrath (8027) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033880)

One cannot "mine" helium. It comes dominantly from radioactive decay in the earth of Uranium and its decay products. But because it is so light, it generally leaks out of the ground, and escapes. Also because it is so light, it is not retained in the earth's atmosphere at all, and leaks into space (at which point it is irretrievable). Our supply right now comes from radioactive decay (over the last 5 billion years) which produced helium that accidentally got trapped in the earth (mostly in the same underground reservoirs as oil -- it is mixed in with natural gas). The half-life of Uranium is about 4.5 billion years, so the Helium is produced very slowly.

The problem is that it has widespread industrial and scientific uses, and its loss will have a severe impact on our science and industry. In particular it is used as a coolant (gets down to about 4K, and is the best way to get things to that temperature). Also it is used in any application requiring high field superconducting magnets. The fancy new High-T_c magnets generally cannot support large fields, so in fields like particle physics which require big magnets, they generally use simpler materials (e.g. Niobium-Titanium for the main LHC magnets [physicsworld.com] ) that only superconduct at temperatures much lower than the liquid Nitrogen boiling point.

-- Bob

Peak Everything (5, Insightful)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033548)

As a civilisation we are facing Peak Everything [amazon.com] a century of resource decline in the face of population expansion.

It's not the End of the World, but you can see it from here, and if we're not careful Things Could Go Poorly. The problem is the smartest people around think "technology" will fix the "resource" problem. Given unlimited energy and resources, perhaps this is true, but we don't live in a world where there are unlimited resources. So, if we're at the top of the heap - look around you: this is as good as it gets.

RS

Re:Peak Everything (1)

denzacar (181829) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033630)

Given unlimited energy and resources, perhaps this is true, but we don't live in a world where there are unlimited resources.
You mean like... umm... I don't know... this entire universe of resources out there?

What time is it where you are now?
If it is dark enough, with few clouds, you might see a giant fuckin' chunk of those resources right up there in the sky.
Its kinda hard to miss. Its big and shiny. People call it "The Moon".

You do know that humans went there 40 years ago?
Using f-in slide rules [photobucket.com] for calculation.

Re:Peak Everything (5, Insightful)

tgd (2822) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033770)

While it sounds noble to talk about space travel, and at once level you're right, comparing what we did as a species 40 years ago and what we'd need to do to really utilize those resources on Earth is like saying getting into orbit is easy because the Chinese invented rockets two thousand years ago.

Do take a stroll by any of your local industrial plants -- doesn't matter what it is. Steel, say. Or a gas liquification plant. Now figure out how you're going to get all of that into space. Not orbit, you need it orbiting the sun, not the Earth because the stuff you're talking about what we want isn't floating around around the earth. Now figure out how you're going to shield it from radiation, and feed the hundreds of employees. And keep in mind all of that capacity is to produce something for a regional demand, not a global demand.

Even when you've got it, now figure out how you're going to get it back down to the ground. (We'll ignore the fact that most of the resources are tied up in other gravity wells...)

Your statement may be intellectually correct, but its about as realistic as sitting in the jungles of central america 12,000 years ago and taking solice in the availability of some resource you need, buried a mile inside of Everest and nowhere else.

Re:Peak Everything (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22034018)

You're ignoring the parent post's whole point. That the method to do this may very well be invented soon, but not if we don't work on it. That's exactly what nuclear energy was, and it wasn't a single bright guy thinking it up over night.

Re:Peak Everything (4, Insightful)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033652)

Of course, given unlimited energy and resources, there wouldn't be a crisis to begin with.

As for technology fixing the problem... How do you know it won't? 100 years ago, they could have said the same... And been wrong. Nuclear was invented after that.

Every generation seems to think this is 'as good as it gets' and every generation has been proven wrong. Our technology is still advancing faster than ever.

Am I putting blind faith in technology? No. I think we should conserve and recycle. I think we should specifically research the issues of the day instead of random other things. But I also know that researching 'random other things' has created some of our best technology.

Re:Peak Everything (4, Insightful)

Angostura (703910) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033822)

Every generation seems to think this is 'as good as it gets' and every generation has been proven wrong.


I think you may need to adjust your frame of reference somewhat. Have a look at the fall of he Roman Empire, the Dark Ages, what happened to the Mayans, Easter Island etc. and think again about whether every generation has been proven wrong

Re:Peak Everything (5, Insightful)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 6 years ago | (#22034000)

Our understanding of Physics and Geology is undisputedly the best that it ever has been. One could even argue that our understanding of physical phenomena that occur for "human-sized" systems is nearly complete.

Granted, we still have a long ways to go in terms of exploiting those laws of physics to generate energy/resources, but the fact remains that our "catalogue" of Earth's natural resources is largely complete.

We know what materials are available to us, we know which of those materials can be used to generate energy, and we know that we're quickly running out of all of them. Although Nuclear fusion/fission offer the promise of "turning nothing into something", even our current supply of fissile material is most certainly finite (and we must take great care to properly re-process and re-use spent fuel).

I'd love to be proven wrong, but I'm really not sure we're going to uncover any magical new energy sources in the near future. Fusion research should of course be pursued (preferably funding several different designs, as there are quite a few worthy candidates), although every current indication shows that viable Fusion generation is going to be *really* *really* difficult, even if we do figure out how to sustain the reaction.

Re:Peak Everything (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22033788)

Not least: Peak population. It's supposed to happen around 2050, if current fertility trends continue.

Re:Peak Everything (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22033874)

As a civilisation we are facing Peak Everything a century of resource decline in the face of population expansion.

How dare you question the free market? Don't you know that as soon as a resource is gone or an animal forever extinct another resource magically appears to replace it and that this will lead to a infinite accelerating spiral of prosperity?

Increase public awareness (4, Insightful)

Mantaar (1139339) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033554)

... not only of a looming Helium shortage - just google for "Aluminum Shortage" and take a look at the results... many resources on earth are becoming more and more scarce while everybody seems to only concentrate on energy resources.

That, my friends is one of the best reasons for putting money into space exploration rather than wars for oil. We're still far from being able to actually mine anything that's not already on our planet, but we're not so far from a shortage in the critical resources that would make extraterrestrial retrieval of resources possible in the first place.

With Helium it's actually a matter of re-using what we have - gas recycling hasn't been much of an issue in the past, but people need to hear about it. And please don't throw 'statistical evidence' at me that suggests 'there is no crisis'. Even the potential crisis is enough to be worried about it, if the implications are that dramatic. Much of our economical and scientific growth currently depends on the reckless abuse of non-renewable (or non-renewed) resources. We don't want to break Moore's Law, do we?

Re:Increase public awareness (5, Informative)

DeeQ (1194763) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033584)

What exactly uses Helium that is all that important?

According to wikipedia the applications of helium

* Because it is lighter than air, airships and balloons are inflated with helium for lift. In airships, helium is preferred over hydrogen because it is not flammable and has 92.64% of the buoyancy (or lifting power) of the alternative hydrogen (see calculation.)

* For its low solubility in water, the major part of human blood, air mixtures of helium with oxygen and nitrogen (Trimix), with oxygen only (Heliox), with common air (heliair), and with hydrogen and oxygen (hydreliox), are used in deep-sea breathing systems to reduce the high-pressure risk of nitrogen narcosis, decompression sickness, and oxygen toxicity.

* At extremely low temperatures, liquid helium is used to cool certain metals to produce superconductivity, such as in superconducting magnets used in magnetic resonance imaging. Helium at low temperatures is also used in cryogenics.

* For its inertness and high thermal conductivity, neutron transparency, and because it does not form radioactive isotopes under reactor conditions, helium is used as a coolant in some nuclear reactors, such as pebble-bed reactors.

* Helium is used as a shielding gas in arc welding processes on materials that are contaminated easily by air. It is especially useful in overhead welding, because it is lighter than air and thus floats, whereas other shielding gases sink.

* Because it is inert, helium is used as a protective gas in growing silicon and germanium crystals, in titanium and zirconium production, in gas chromatography, and as an atmosphere for protecting historical documents. This property also makes it useful in supersonic wind tunnels.

* In rocketry, helium is used as an ullage medium to displace fuel and oxidizers in storage tanks and to condense hydrogen and oxygen to make rocket fuel. It is also used to purge fuel and oxidizer from ground support equipment prior to launch and to pre-cool liquid hydrogen in space vehicles. For example, the Saturn V booster used in the Apollo program needed about 13 million cubic feet (370,000 m) of helium to launch.[2]

* The gain medium of the helium-neon laser is a mixture of helium and neon.

* Because it diffuses through solids at a rate three times that of air, helium is used as a tracer gas to detect leaks in high-vacuum equipment and high-pressure containers, as well as in other applications with less stringent requirements such as heat exchangers, valves, gas panels, etc.

* Because of its extremely low index of refraction, the use of helium reduces the distorting effects of temperature variations in the space between lenses in some telescopes.

* The age of rocks and minerals that contain uranium and thorium, radioactive elements that emit helium nuclei called alpha particles, can be discovered by measuring the level of helium with a process known as helium dating.

* The high thermal conductivity and sound velocity of helium is also desirable in thermoacoustic refrigeration. The inertness of helium adds to the environmental advantage of this technology over conventional refrigeration systems which may contribute to ozone depleting and global warming effects.

* Because helium alone is less dense than atmospheric air, it will change the timbre (not pitch[12]) of a person's voice when inhaled. However, inhaling it from a typical commercial source, such as that used to fill balloons, can be dangerous due to the risk of asphyxiation from lack of oxygen, and the number of contaminants that may be present. These could include trace amounts of other gases, in addition to aerosolized lubricating oil.

Maybe I'm missing the usefulness of some of those but it doesn't seem like a big deal.

Re:Increase public awareness (2, Informative)

toggleflipflop (262533) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033730)

>What exactly uses Helium that is all that important?
>* At extremely low temperatures, liquid helium is used to cool certain metals to produce superconductivity, such as in superconducting magnets used in magnetic resonance imaging. >Helium at low temperatures is also used in cryogenics.

Aside from all the scientific experiments that need the helium for cooling, I wonder how you could consider magnetic resonance imaging [wikipedia.org] as not being important.

Re:Increase public awareness (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22034014)

The reason he might not is because there are alternatives to MRI's that do not require. MRI's are expensive and not needed A CT scan can cope for most of the MRI's uses.

Re:Increase public awareness (2, Insightful)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 6 years ago | (#22034010)

Maybe I'm missing the usefulness of some of those but it doesn't seem like a big deal.
lets see

Because it is lighter than air, airships and balloons are inflated with helium for lift. In airships, helium is preferred over hydrogen because it is not flammable and has 92.64% of the buoyancy (or lifting power) of the alternative hydrogen (see calculation.)
not that important because most really important uses of balloons (weather monitoring) are unmanned and so can use hydrogen.

For its low solubility in water, the major part of human blood, air mixtures of helium with oxygen and nitrogen (Trimix), with oxygen only (Heliox), with common air (heliair), and with hydrogen and oxygen (hydreliox), are used in deep-sea breathing systems to reduce the high-pressure risk of nitrogen narcosis, decompression sickness, and oxygen toxicity.
While a lot of diving is done just for pleasure diving is also done for industrial reasons such as maintinance of oil/gas rigs, some of that diving is pretty deep. Helium is by far the best mixer gas (and you need some mixer gas to get the overall pressure of the breathing gas right withotu making the partial pressure of oxygen/nitrogen dangerously high) for high pressure diving because it has a low molecular mass, is safe to handle and no (or at least very little) affect on the body.

* At extremely low temperatures, liquid helium is used to cool certain metals to produce superconductivity, such as in superconducting magnets used in magnetic resonance imaging. Helium at low temperatures is also used in cryogenics.
magnetic resonance imaging is a pretty important part of modern medicines.

* For its inertness and high thermal conductivity, neutron transparency, and because it does not form radioactive isotopes under reactor conditions, helium is used as a coolant in some nuclear reactors, such as pebble-bed reactors.
nuclear reactors are probablly going to be the main power source of the next half century or so once we realise that burning fossil fuels at the current rate is not reasonable, that renewables are an extra at best and that fusion is still a long way off.

* Helium is used as a shielding gas in arc welding processes on materials that are contaminated easily by air. It is especially useful in overhead welding, because it is lighter than air and thus floats, whereas other shielding gases sink.
welding is pretty important in a lot of industries

* Because it is inert, helium is used as a protective gas in growing silicon and germanium crystals, in titanium and zirconium production, in gas chromatography, and as an atmosphere for protecting historical documents. This property also makes it useful in supersonic wind tunnels.
silicon based computers have become a pretty vital part of the world economy

in rocketry, helium is used as an ullage medium to displace fuel and oxidizers in storage tanks and to condense hydrogen and oxygen to make rocket fuel. It is also used to purge fuel and oxidizer from ground support equipment prior to launch and to pre-cool liquid hydrogen in space vehicles. For example, the Saturn V booster used in the Apollo program needed about 13 million cubic feet (370,000 m) of helium to launch
while manned space exploration doesn't really achive all that much sattalites have certainly become pretty important in the modern world.

Because of its extremely low index of refraction, the use of helium reduces the distorting effects of temperature variations in the space between lenses in some telescopes.
probablly not that important

The age of rocks and minerals that contain uranium and thorium, radioactive elements that emit helium nuclei called alpha particles, can be discovered by measuring the level of helium with a process known as helium dating.
not really a use of helium in the sense we are talking about here.

The high thermal conductivity and sound velocity of helium is also desirable in thermoacoustic refrigeration. The inertness of helium adds to the environmental advantage of this technology over conventional refrigeration systems which may contribute to ozone depleting and global warming effects.
not that important as most current refridgeration does not use this system.

Because helium alone is less dense than atmospheric air, it will change the timbre (not pitch[12]) of a person's voice when inhaled. However, inhaling it from a typical commercial source, such as that used to fill balloons, can be dangerous due to the risk of asphyxiation from lack of oxygen, and the number of contaminants that may be present. These could include trace amounts of other gases, in addition to aerosolized lubricating oil.
definitely frivoulous.

P.S. helium can be manufacturered you use a high energy neutron flux to knock bits of tritium off lithium and then let the result decay into helium (and it makes the lighter helium-3, bonus). But natural helium is going to have to get a hell of a lot rarer before that is a viable way of getting helium.

scavenging (4, Informative)

phorm (591458) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033646)

Companies are already looking at scavenging raw materials out of recycled industrial (or even consumer) waste. As we are able to extract less through mining, we may look more at extracting (what may be in the future) semi-precious metals through various forms of recycling. Already a lot of companies are springing up around this concept, and some are even making decent bucks. As availability through mining starts to fall short, I'd expect to see an increase in price followed by availability picking up again to some extent through re-use.

This may be a pretty damn cool use for bio-science too, as I seem to remember articles about modified plants that could be placed about areas such as garbage dumps etc and absorb various metallic minerals from the ground. Maybe one day we'll see people growing trees of copper and aluminum over previous landfills, leeching bits of once-discarded waste metals from the ground.

I wouldn't say that the lack of raw materials shouldn't be a concern, but in the perhaps it will actually force society to view such things as less "disposable" and further the science and industry of re-use in the future.

Re:Risky business (1)

scsirob (246572) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033766)

Mining on remote planets is risky, as bringing all that extra material to Earth will increase it's weight, thereby shifting the Earth's place in our galaxy, making it move slower. With increased mass and gravity we will be drawn into a new orbit in the direction of the sun, adding to GLOBAL WARMING!! OH NOO!!!

Yeah, I'm a cynic...

Re:Increase public awareness (1)

KlaymenDK (713149) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033918)

The same is going on for copper. I guess there are too many wires in the world?

It actually annoys me to no end that I don't have a better option than to discard aluminium(!) foil wrappers with the kitchen garbage. It's such a waste.

Funny thing (4, Informative)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033566)

I commented about this the other day, and I was surprised at the comments that indicated that so many ppl did not realize that we are headed for issues on this. I only hope that we start recapturing it again. Since Natural gas prices have gone up, we have quit separating it. Combine that with Clinton having opened up the store, and we are losing our massive stockpile. Instead countries like Russia and China do it. IOW, the west is about to be dependent on countries on other countries.

BTW, folks, helium is looked at for a number of important uses esp nuclear power, medical, and welding.

If the price increases enough ... (2, Interesting)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033676)

If the price increases enough every natural gas producer will separate helium. This will postpone the problem until we run out of natural gas, possibly 30 to 50 years away. I am sure that when the western world runs out of these resources our previous fair dealings with the Arab world and Eastern Europe will help us negotiate some fair deals.

Re:If the price increases enough ... (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033804)

helium is lost right away. You have to tap right up front, or you lose it. After all it is at the top of the pocket. The problem is that we have been taped the bulk of our pockets. Everytime, we find a new pocket, they are smaller and have less and less gas and helium. IOW, we do not have 30-50 years worth in the ground. We have very little left. Basically, those reserves are where the bulk is. Hopefully W. will do something smart and shut down the sell off or will raise the price to the fun ppl (i.e. charge them what the chinese and EE currently charge).

Re:If the price increases enough ... (1)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033978)

I don't think so, any more than the hydrogen is at the top of the atmosphere.

Cost effective? (4, Insightful)

phorm (591458) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033582)

Extracting it from the atmosphere is not cost-effective

Not now, but as the availability goes down and focus turns to finding ways to extract helium more efficiently, along with a sharp price rise, then the incipient profit involved in extraction will likely create a market for atmospheric or some other method of extraction... or perhaps lead to the future ability to synthesise helium.

My question: can any science-types here list some important uses of helium? I'm sure that there are some, but I can't think of any off the top of my head.

Re:Cost effective? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22033716)

First of all, helium cannot be synthesized. Second your post is clearly a failed rehash (replace helium by oil).

Helium is used, amongst other things, for cooling down to near 0 K, for example: superconductivity experiments.

Re:Cost effective? (2, Informative)

jjon (555854) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033750)

or perhaps lead to the future ability to synthesise helium

Pretty much impossible (unless we get nuclear fusion working). Helium's not just some compound we can synthesize like oil or natural gas, it's an element like gold. And last I checked the alchemists didn't have much success at creating gold.

Re:Cost effective? (2, Informative)

Esel Theo (575829) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033760)

The problem is that helium is lighter than air. You you'll hardly find any of it here near the ground that you could extract. I was once even told that helium released into the air will move up and up and up ... and eventually leave our atmosphere. Gone. Forever.

can any science-types here list some important uses of helium?
Cooling is a very important use. No other gas can bring you to temperatures near 0K. Most of the gas used for cooling could be recycled after use. I know that research labs in Europe do that. Here in the U.S., unfortunately, I only know of labs that don't.

Re:Cost effective? (4, Informative)

lachlan76 (770870) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033830)

  • Cryogenics---including the superconducters used by MRI machines---often uses liquid Helium, though MRI machines might be using high-temperature superconductors now; I'm not sure.
  • Welding---the various *IG welders use helium in mixtures of gases to protect the high-temperature metal from the air.
  • Lasers---Helium-Neon lasers are sometimes used.
Wikipedia's Helium page. [wikipedia.org] has more details.

Science uses (1)

Valacosa (863657) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033922)

I guess I'm a science type.

Liquid helium is used as a coolant, much like liquid nitrogen. However, the boiling point of helium is 4.2 Kelvin, rather than the 77 Kelvin for nitrogen.

Sometimes scientists need to be able to make things that cold. For instance, solid state physicists doing experiments with superconductivity, a phenomenon that only manifests at low temperatures. If that's a little too abstract for you, consider this - the superconducting magnets in MRI machines need liquid helium to work.

The issue is reclamation, not from the atmosphere but from the machines themselves. In the lab I worked in whenever possible we would reclaim the helium and reliquify it. There are two problems, however. One, the mass of a helium atom is so light that it can escape from the Earth's gravitational pull - so once it evaporates, it's GONE. Two, helium atoms are tiny, fiddly little buggers that can find their way out of almost anything.

Right now our helium comes from our oil caches, IIRC it was built up there through millions of years of radioactive decay of isotopes that happened to be in organic molecules. Unless we discover cheap fusion by the time that built-up supply runs out, we'll just have whatever is being generated by present-day radioactive decay. Which is a sloooooooow process.

failure to thrive crisis upon us (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22033600)

as we use up everything & give back almost nothing the 'balance' becomes increasingly skewed. the georgewellian wolfowitz plan to conquer the world or nuke it doesn't make any sense either. let yOUR conscience be yOUR guide. you can be more helpful than you might have imagined. there are still some choices. if they do not suit you, consider the likely results of continuing to follow the corepirate nazi hypenosys story LIEn, whereas anything of relevance is replaced almost instantly with pr ?firm? scriptdead mindphuking propaganda or 'celebrity' trivia 'foam'. meanwhile; don't forget to get a little more oxygen on yOUR brain, & look up in the sky from time to time, starting early in the day. there's lots going on up there.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071229/ap_on_sc/ye_climate_records;_ylt=A0WTcVgednZHP2gB9wms0NUE [yahoo.com]
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20080108/ts_alt_afp/ushealthfrancemortality;_ylt=A9G_RngbRIVHsYAAfCas0NUE [yahoo.com]
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/31/opinion/31mon1.html?em&ex=1199336400&en=c4b5414371631707&ei=5087%0A [nytimes.com]

is it time to get real yet? A LOT of energy is being squandered in attempts to keep US in the dark. in the end (give or take a few 1000 years), the creators will prevail (world without end, etc...), as it has always been. the process of gaining yOUR release from the current hostage situation may not be what you might think it is. butt of course, most of US don't know, or care what a precarious/fatal situation we're in. for example; the insidious attempts by the felonious corepirate nazi execrable to block the suns' light, interfering with a requirement (sunlight) for us to stay healthy/alive. it's likely not good for yOUR health/memories 'else they'd be bragging about it? we're intending for the whoreabully deceptive (they'll do ANYTHING for a bit more monIE/power) felons to give up/fail even further, in attempting to control the 'weather', as well as a # of other things/events.

http://video.google.com/videosearch?hl=en&q=video+cloud+spraying [google.com]

dictator style micro management has never worked (for very long). it's an illness. tie that with life0cidal aggression & softwar gangster style bullying, & what do we have? a greed/fear/ego based recipe for disaster. meanwhile, you can help to stop the bleeding (loss of life & limb);

http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/12/28/vermont.banning.bush.ap/index.html [cnn.com]

the bleeding must be stopped before any healing can begin. jailing a couple of corepirate nazi hired goons would send a clear message to the rest of the world from US. any truthful look at the 'scorecard' would reveal that we are a society in decline/deep doo-doo, despite all of the scriptdead pr ?firm? generated drum beating & flag waving propaganda that we are constantly bombarded with. is it time to get real yet? please consider carefully ALL of yOUR other 'options'. the creators will prevail. as it has always been.

corepirate nazi execrable costs outweigh benefits
(Score:-)mynuts won, the king is a fink)
by ourselves on everyday 24/7

as there are no benefits, just more&more death/debt & disruption. fortunately there's an 'army' of light bringers, coming yOUR way. the little ones/innocents must/will be protected. after the big flash, ALL of yOUR imaginary 'borders' may blur a bit? for each of the creators' innocents harmed in any way, there is a debt that must/will be repaid by you/us, as the perpetrators/minions of unprecedented evile, will not be available. 'vote' with (what's left in) yOUR wallet, & by your behaviors. help bring an end to unprecedented evile's manifestation through yOUR owned felonious corepirate nazi glowbull warmongering execrable. some of US should consider ourselves somewhat fortunate to be among those scheduled to survive after the big flash/implementation of the creators' wwwildly popular planet/population rescue initiative/mandate. it's right in the manual, 'world without end', etc.... as we all ?know?, change is inevitable, & denying/ignoring gravity, logic, morality, etc..., is only possible, on a temporary basis. concern about the course of events that will occur should the life0cidal execrable fail to be intervened upon is in order. 'do not be dismayed' (also from the manual). however, it's ok/recommended, to not attempt to live under/accept, fauxking nazi felon greed/fear/ego based pr ?firm? scriptdead mindphuking hypenosys.

consult with/trust in yOUR creators. providing more than enough of everything for everyone (without any distracting/spiritdead personal gain motives), whilst badtolling unprecedented evile, using an unlimited supply of newclear power, since/until forever. see you there?

"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

meanwhile, the life0cidal philistines continue on their path of death, debt, & disruption for most of US. gov. bush denies health care for the little ones;

http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/10/03/bush.veto/index.html [cnn.com]

whilst demanding/extorting billions to paint more targets on the bigger kids;

http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/12/12/bush.war.funding/index.html [cnn.com]

& pretending that it isn't happening here;

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article3086937.ece [timesonline.co.uk]
all is not lost/forgotten/forgiven

(yOUR elected) president al gore (deciding not to wait for the much anticipated 'lonesome al answers yOUR questions' interview here on /.) continues to attempt to shed some light on yOUR foibles. talk about reverse polarity;

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article3046116.ece [timesonline.co.uk]

Re:failure to thrive crisis upon us (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22033722)

I've heard that Thorazine can be quite helpful for people like you. Ask your doctor.

wha?! (2, Interesting)

wwmedia (950346) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033606)

is Helium like the second most common element in the universe?

Re:wha?! (4, Funny)

leomekenkamp (566309) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033692)

Yes, there is a fairly large amount of it only a few lightminutes away from earth; and the best thing is: tons of helium are being created every second! Unfortunately you have to overcome some issues, like gravitational pull and high temperatures.

Re:wha?! (2, Funny)

phagstrom (451510) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033728)

Yes, but that does not make it the second most common element on earth. I don't think there are that many astronauts volunteering a trip to the sun to get some helium - even if it is for the sake of clowns everywhere ;-)

Re:wha?! (1)

ImprovGuy (541110) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033732)

Oh yeah - in fact we have a *huge* supply quite nearby. If you have any ideas on how to extract it from the centre of the Sun, well, we're all ears. :)

Re:wha?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22033806)

In the universe != On the Earth.

Maybe, just maybe, if we had a really tall ladder of some sort

Helium is a rebel, a loner (4, Funny)

Reader X (906979) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033614)

FTA: helium is a rebel, a loner, and it does not combine with other atoms while hydrogen does

Helium: the James Dean of elements. All by itself in the upper right hand corner of the periodic table.

Which I guess makes hydrogen the Paris Hilton of elements? Alone at the top??

Why oh why couldn't I have been a science journalist...

Re:Helium is a rebel, a loner (5, Funny)

Manchot (847225) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033726)

Which I guess makes hydrogen the Paris Hilton of elements? Alone at the top??

It also bonds with pretty much anything it meets.

Re:Helium is a rebel, a loner (1)

handelaar (65505) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033740)

>> Which I guess makes hydrogen the Paris Hilton of elements? Alone at the top??

And unbelievably promiscuous.

Supply and demand (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22033668)

TFA says few natural gas producers recover the helium from their wells. If the price of helium rises due to scarcity, those producers will recover the helium. Problem solved.

Moon (2, Insightful)

Nephrite (82592) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033790)

There is a helluva lot of helium on the Moon. Moon ground is soaked in helium if I may say so. May be this will give another boost to space program? And remember the Chinese are going to build a moon base. Prepare to buy helium from China.

Don't forget the physics (4, Insightful)

tastiles (466054) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033866)

Two important points about helium

1. It's the smallest atom/molecule, since hydrogen is diatomic and H2 is a bit bigger than He. This makes it more difficult to store as it can get through any holes in a container

2. It escapes from the atmosphere. So, once it's out of the container it goes into outer space and is gone forever.

Not cost-effective (2, Insightful)

KlaymenDK (713149) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033890)

Extracting [Helium] from the atmosphere is not cost-effective. The US [...] stopped stockpiling it in 1995 as a cost-saving measure.

Not cost-effective, eh? Well, in nine years, it will be! When your options are to use hydrogen, or tro to convince your friendly neighbourhood refinery to start capturing helium, then it will darn well be cost-effective to buy my extracted-from-the-sky-and-stockpiled-in-my-bunker helium instead...

Controlled nuclear fusion (1)

linuxbz (875073) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033928)

Whatever happened to nuclear fusion? Wouldn't the byproduct of a controlled fusion reaction be helium?

I can see it now. (2, Funny)

MrCopilot (871878) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033970)

2010 The Rationing Begins.

Borthday Balloons will get smaller every year. Soon you won't be able to get them at your local grocery store.

I personally blame the Mythbusters. What between the Raft, The several thousand balloons used to lift the kid, and the Lawn chair, they probably reduced our supply by 3 yrs alone.

Good, finally (1)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 6 years ago | (#22033988)

Excellent. I had no idea that the US government was, effectively, subsidizing the balloon industry. Now, the price can be adjusted for supply/demand, making balloons more expensive. That should keep at least some of them out of our ponds and rivers. If people want to play fun with a non-renewable resource, and pollute to boot, let them foot their own bill.
Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

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>
Sign up for Slashdot Newsletters
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...