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Helium Shortage Looms Large for Semiconductor Industry

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aarunaku
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Helium Shortage
aarunaku   8/14/2013 3:22:48 PM
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I worked in a low temperature physics laboratory and we used liquid He to in 25liter/8 gallon dewars in quotas per week. This was in the 90s and at time we were made very clear to recycle gaseous Helium to liquifying plant, which was attached to our facility.

There were times when we faced shortage of availability we felt that Helium should not be given to "MONKEYS" to fill balloons and decorate it for fun.

It is a great natural reserve, perhaps now the time has come to move the He(4,2) to the rare earth columns instead of the inert gas column of the periodic table for political reasons.

The worst thing that can happen is, companies lobbying to sell at high price to hospitals and other national facilities driving the costs up. It is still not too late to ban on the fun part and stick granting sales to licensed authorities with recycling facilities, however who would drive it is the question.

It may not sound very important to those who do not understand why losing He is very important, but one bad day will come where it is too late. May be next to Helium would be Hydrogen and water?

David Ashton
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Re:
David Ashton   8/14/2013 6:10:35 PM
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@Prabakhar...I don't think it's that simple, and I have no idea if there is more helium at airplane altitudes than at the surface, or whther it would concentrate even higher up.   The plane would obvoulsy have to have equipment that can (apart from gathering it) keep it cool. and it may not be economic (passengers might pay more, weight for weight...) but it would be interesting to know more about where the Helium actually is.   Anyone got the answers?

It's crazy that we use it in silly things like party balloons if it's that rare..  I'm sure hydrogen (mix it with CO2 or Nitrogen if necessary) would do.....

krisi
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price
krisi   8/14/2013 9:33:21 PM
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if Helium shortage is really the prices should skyrocket...are they very high?...and if they are perhaps there is an alternative technology

Etmax
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Re: Sounds like we need to develop nuclear fusion
Etmax   8/15/2013 11:11:06 AM
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No, I think it's easier to develop a fusion reactor than to get congress to agree on something other than their paypacket

Etmax
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Re: Helium
Etmax   8/15/2013 11:14:22 AM
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Wikipedia has a good run down on it, most comes from the US as a byproduct of gas mining. It is however finite and shouldn't be used in helium balloons at parties. I think something like 10 years worth is left on current usage.

any1
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Re: Helium
any1   8/15/2013 4:11:02 PM
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There was a good article in the Washington Post last year on this problem.  In 1996 the congress decided to get rid on the federal Helium reserve that was created (at an expense of $1.4 billion) in the 1960s.  The problem was that they priced the Helium at about half what it was worth.  That is why we can still use it for party ballons.  I guess the hope was that by now the private sector would have stepped into the breach that the  government was creating by ending the reserve.  But that hasn't happened, perhaps because if  congress changes their mind (again) and continues to sell it below cost then private industry could not make a profit. And so it goes...........

Ogemaniac
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Re: Helium
Ogemaniac   8/15/2013 10:26:13 PM
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What is helium "worth"?

 

It is almost unique in its non-renewability. If we mine, say, titanium or gold or phosophorus and use it, we might degrade the resource but the atoms remain here on earth. When we use helium, in contrast, if we don't deliberately recapture it and have it recycled, it leaks into the atmosphere and escapes into space. Fossil fuels share a similar "one and done" situation, but in their case, there are renewable alternatives. For many if not most applications for helium, there is no obvious or viable alternative.

All non-critical uses of helium should be banned immediately.

 

 

Etmax
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Re: Helium
Etmax   8/15/2013 11:12:36 PM
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I agree whole heartedly with your idea of not allowing it's use in party balloons.

 

Fossil fuels however are part of a cycle. What will happen is long after we have fought our way into extinction plant life will eventually capture and store CO2 in fossil reserves so that in a million years we can find our way back into the mess we are now yet again.

Susan Rambo
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Re: Helium
Susan Rambo   8/16/2013 12:58:21 AM
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This is a good, quick read from Popular Mechanics that says much of the same thing: articially low prices, an attempt at privatization of storage but private industry not interested. Seems like the low price at which the Federal govt. sells helium could be an enticement for industry to buy it at a low price, stockpile, and sell it at high price. Easier said than done.

Duane Benson
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Re:
Duane Benson   8/16/2013 11:36:04 AM
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David - A few years ago, I read that helium is the only element that, if left to its own devices, will escape the atmosphere. The other light gases will combine with something and end up too heavy to do the same.

I'm not sure how it would work though. Even being a very light element, I would think that it would just collect at some high altitude rather than bleed off into space.

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