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(The Detroit_News)   Businesses across U.S. grounded by critical helium shortage. You submitted this with a higher-pitched headline   (detroitnews.com) divider line 65
    More: Fail, U.S., shortages, helium  
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3009 clicks; posted to Business » on 28 May 2012 at 12:53 PM (2 years ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2012-05-28 10:11:49 AM
The U.S. government, with the largest reserve in the world, chose to get out of the helium business in the mid-1990s. Legislators opted to sell off its stores of the element and invite private companies to generate the supply. Things have not worked out as hoped.


I'm completely shocked by this revelation.
 
2012-05-28 10:34:13 AM
And yet idiots still keep using it to fill their party balloons.
 
2012-05-28 11:09:38 AM

NewportBarGuy: The U.S. government, with the largest reserve in the world, chose to get out of the helium business in the mid-1990s. Legislators opted to sell off its stores of the element and invite private companies to generate the supply. Things have not worked out as hoped.


I'm completely shocked by this revelation.


But the government is evil and letting the private market run it will fix everything!!

Why are we letting helium be used for party balloons if we know this is going to be a huge issue with keeping our science and tech going without it? Are we really THIS stupid and short sighted?
 
2012-05-28 12:13:02 PM
The sun is, like, 28% helium. Let's just go there and collect it. And I know what you're thinking, that's why we'll go at night.
 
2012-05-28 12:38:45 PM

WorldCitizen: Why are we letting helium be used for party balloons if we know this is going to be a huge issue with keeping our science and tech going without it? Are we really THIS stupid and short sighted?


yawn
of course we are

And, this is really just a short term supply and demand problem. At what point does the massive increase in natural gas production produce a massive increase in He production? If there is enough of a profit, the He will be harvested. If not, it will be vented into space.

PANIC!
helium balloons whargl
 
2012-05-28 01:08:40 PM

namatad: And, this is really just a short term supply and demand problem.


No, it's not, it's far more fundamental than that.

If not, it will be vented into space.

And yet you seem not to understand the consequences of that fact.
 
2012-05-28 01:09:47 PM

WorldCitizen: NewportBarGuy: The U.S. government, with the largest reserve in the world, chose to get out of the helium business in the mid-1990s. Legislators opted to sell off its stores of the element and invite private companies to generate the supply. Things have not worked out as hoped.


I'm completely shocked by this revelation.

But the government is evil and letting the private market run it will fix everything!!

Why are we letting helium be used for party balloons if we know this is going to be a huge issue with keeping our science and tech going without it? Are we really THIS stupid and short sighted?


Without question.
 
2012-05-28 01:10:38 PM

WorldCitizen: Are we really THIS stupid and short sighted?


Um . . . . yes?

/Well, the stupid and shortsighted sociopaths that have sociopathed their way into positions of power certainly seem to be.
//Balloon biatch should use hydrogen - what could possibly go wrong?
 
2012-05-28 01:14:30 PM

LandStander: The sun is, like, 28% helium. Let's just go there and collect it. And I know what you're thinking, that's why we'll go at night.


I insist on sending our political and business leaders; they're the right people for this job.
 
2012-05-28 01:16:41 PM

WorldCitizen: NewportBarGuy: The U.S. government, with the largest reserve in the world, chose to get out of the helium business in the mid-1990s. Legislators opted to sell off its stores of the element and invite private companies to generate the supply. Things have not worked out as hoped.


I'm completely shocked by this revelation.

But the government is evil and letting the private market run it will fix everything!!

Why are we letting helium be used for party balloons if we know this is going to be a huge issue with keeping our science and tech going without it? Are we really THIS stupid and short sighted?


Y U HATE JORB KREEATORS?!??

/stupid, short sighted and greedy as fark
 
2012-05-28 01:44:14 PM
TFA: "We very much hope that this is short-term problem," Burton said.

No, it isn't.

BTW, read the comments in TFA if you want to get an idea of just how badly we're farked.
 
2012-05-28 01:59:55 PM

namatad: At what point does the massive increase in natural gas production produce a massive increase in He production?


When we collect the gas just to extract the precious helium, and burn the rest off because money can't be made off it.

You generally don't want private interests controlling long-term resources. Yes, when government rations resources it forces a lower standard of living. THAT'S THE POINT. A lot of our habits are unsustainable, consuming generations' worth of resources in a very short time. This is because businesses insist on making their buck in years if not months. The helium we pissed away is gone forever.
 
2012-05-28 02:06:59 PM
When helium becomes valuable enough we will produce more of it. First we will collect more of the Helium lost during natural gas extraction. Then we will collect helium from nuclear reactors. If it becomes valuable enough we can even harvest it from the moon. $200 a tank is nothing.
 
2012-05-28 02:11:48 PM
Peak Helium
 
2012-05-28 02:15:26 PM
Semiconductor manufacturing in particular uses a frankly absurd amount of helium. It is used as a coolant during processing because it is non-reactive and an amazing heat conductor and because of those unique properties there is no realistic replacement for it. Perhaps higher prices will encourage less frivolous use of the limited supply of gas.

Perhaps the decorators should switch to hydrogen for balloons that will not be around an ignition source. Party balloons filled with hydrogen actually don't produce much flame if they are lit, mostly just noise.
 
2012-05-28 02:16:38 PM

namatad: PANIC!
helium balloons whargl


Um, the lack of helium is more concerning than "ZOMG NO MORE BALOONS".

Helium is kiiindaaa critical to a lot of research and medical equipment, some of my own research included, because it's the easiest, safest way to get things down to cryogenic temperatures. Liquid Nitrogen only goes down to 70K. Liquid Hydrogen... is asking for trouble. Liquid Helium gets down to 4K.

Helium is really, really important.
 
2012-05-28 02:17:41 PM

WorldCitizen: NewportBarGuy: The U.S. government, with the largest reserve in the world, chose to get out of the helium business in the mid-1990s. Legislators opted to sell off its stores of the element and invite private companies to generate the supply. Things have not worked out as hoped.


I'm completely shocked by this revelation.

But the government is evil and letting the private market run it will fix everything!!

Why are we letting helium be used for party balloons if we know this is going to be a huge issue with keeping our science and tech going without it? Are we really THIS stupid and short sighted?


Not everyone, but we have a habit of putting people in power (political, corporate, etc.) who are. It's more about what benefits them opposed to those they represent.

It's one reason I've developed such a disdain society. As a whole, we're too stupid to survive.
 
2012-05-28 02:20:03 PM
The thing about helium is that there's only one place where a natural gas deposit has so much more helium in it that it was obviously commercially viable to extract it.

There are a lot of places around the world where there's almost as much in local natural gas deposits - it's just that nobody needed helium that much until recent years. The US had so much stock built up that it wasn't worthwhile to build the extraction machinery anywhere else.

Now that the US stockpile is starting to dwindle, there are a couple of new extraction plants under construction in other countries. There's also a bit of discussion towards building some more new extraction plants near the newer natural gas fields, some of which have higher percentages of helium in the mix.

The problem is that it takes some fairly serious cryogenic hardware to get the rest of the gases cold enough to leave just helium. While helium was so cheap (cheap enough to put in party balloons), it wasn't worth it. With a higher (and more widespread) demand on the horizon, it might be worth it to run "microplants" to get smaller volumes of helium - basically, run a small pipe to the helium machine, grab the helium, then return the rest of the natural gas to a "depleted" storage tank or to a pipeline.
 
2012-05-28 02:24:47 PM
ᴵ ᴴᴬᵛᴱ ᴻᴼ ᴵᴰᴱᴬ ᵂᴴᴬᵀ ᶳᵁᴮᴮᵞ ᴵᶳ ᵀᴬᴸᴷᴵᵑᵍᴳ ᴬᴮᴼᵁᵀᵎ
 
2012-05-28 02:41:02 PM
There is nothing Helium can do that Hydrogen can't.
 
2012-05-28 02:42:56 PM

LandStander: The sun is, like, 28% helium. Let's just go there and collect it. And I know what you're thinking, that's why we'll go at night.


Clap clap
 
2012-05-28 02:48:30 PM

Felgraf: namatad: PANIC!
helium balloons whargl

Um, the lack of helium is more concerning than "ZOMG NO MORE BALOONS".

Helium is kiiindaaa critical to a lot of research and medical equipment, some of my own research included, because it's the easiest, safest way to get things down to cryogenic temperatures. Liquid Nitrogen only goes down to 70K. Liquid Hydrogen... is asking for trouble. Liquid Helium gets down to 4K.

Helium is really, really important.


Lost Thought 00: There is nothing Helium can do that Hydrogen can't.


NERD FIGHT!
 
2012-05-28 02:49:25 PM
Monty845
When helium becomes valuable enough we will produce more of it. First we will collect more of the Helium lost during natural gas extraction. Then we will collect helium from nuclear reactors. If it becomes valuable enough we can even harvest it from the moon. $200 a tank is nothing.

Yes, because we have the infrastructure in place to go to the moon tomorrow. I champion the space elevator, but it's decades away because the political will isn't there. Our current nuclear reactors are fission, not fusion, which produces waste which decays by beta and gamma pathways, not alpha (I'm not 100% sure on that one, but you generally only get alpha decay from really heavy nuclei like uranium or thorium, not strontium or iodine). Fusion produces helium nuclei, but again, the will and technology aren't in place. These are solutions for the next century. We're hosed tomorrow.

When the helium runs out, chemistry will be set back seventy years or so. Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) is the most powerful tool we have in synthesis, and the instrument consists of a superconducting loop in a bath of liquid helium. Without NMR, determining what we've made becomes orders of magnitude harder. You can also forget ever getting an MRI again, as well. MRIs run on the same principles as NMR, which means medicine will also lose a powerful diagnostic tool.

All because of short-sighted, greedy tools.
 
2012-05-28 02:53:07 PM

Trolljegeren: LandStander: The sun is, like, 28% helium. Let's just go there and collect it. And I know what you're thinking, that's why we'll go at night.

I insist on sending our political and business leaders; they're the right people for this job.


I think we should put our top men on the job.
 
2012-05-28 02:53:36 PM

Lost Thought 00: There is nothing Helium can do that Hydrogen can't.


Except be inert.
 
2012-05-28 02:59:41 PM

Derigiberble: Perhaps the decorators should switch to hydrogen for balloons that will not be around an ignition source. Party balloons filled with hydrogen actually don't produce much flame if they are lit, mostly just noise.


Having spent much time igniting hydrogen balloons, I'm gonna say you've got it backwards.

Hydrogen doesn't provide much "pop" or "bang", but it produces a really pretty slow-burning fireball. It's like a chrysanthemum blossom of awesome. As for noise, you just get a "whoosh".

Squirt a little O2 in there as well, and you get nothing but noise and shockwave. Massive bang, flash of blue, and neat concussion.

Hydrogen balloons at a birthday party would be a conflagration of epic proportions. I'd show just to take pictures of the moment the house goes up.

/forget hydrogen, use MAPP gas!
 
2012-05-28 03:00:39 PM

Lost Thought 00: There is nothing Helium can do that Hydrogen can't.


Hyrdogen can be used for cooling as well, but it presents a heck of a larger safety issue than He does.
/Although, actually, *can* Hydrogen work as well for cooling? Since it's not inert.....
 
2012-05-28 03:03:05 PM

WorldCitizen: NewportBarGuy: The U.S. government, with the largest reserve in the world, chose to get out of the helium business in the mid-1990s. Legislators opted to sell off its stores of the element and invite private companies to generate the supply. Things have not worked out as hoped.


I'm completely shocked by this revelation.

But the government is evil and letting the private market run it will fix everything!!

Why are we letting helium be used for party balloons if we know this is going to be a huge issue with keeping our science and tech going without it? Are we really THIS stupid and short sighted?


I'm assuming the question was rhetorical...
 
2012-05-28 03:23:57 PM

Huck And Molly Ziegler: Trolljegeren: LandStander: The sun is, like, 28% helium. Let's just go there and collect it. And I know what you're thinking, that's why we'll go at night.

I insist on sending our political and business leaders; they're the right people for this job.

I think we should put our top men on the job.


Who?
 
2012-05-28 03:26:37 PM
So let me see if I understand.

The government built up a large supply and decided to dump it on the market. Prices went down, which meant that people were not motivated to produce more. Businesses - from manufacturers to party supply houses - also built their business model around an artificially low price.

Prices are now trending higher as the surplus is depleted. This is the END OF THE FREAKING WORLD, as people are now having to spend as much on helium as they would have had the government *not* dumped their reserves on the market. This will, eventually, motivate people to produce more as the price increases - as the capacity to increase supply *is* there - but it's likely to result in shortages until the price rises enough to make it profitable for someone to start cranking it out. This means that someone spending twice as much on helium as they used to will have to either charge more or cut into their profit margin - and apparently our "science, industrial, and technology companies" can't outbid Party City. So "frivious" uses of helium should be banned, so your average lab doesn't have to spend too much.

Is that, basically, it?

If so, BOO FREAKING HOO.
 
2012-05-28 03:31:27 PM

WorldCitizen: Why are we letting helium be used for party balloons if we know this is going to be a huge issue with keeping our science and tech going without it? Are we really THIS stupid and short sighted?


Because we let people do what they want, rather than doing only what The Government allows.
But now my helium-filled flying car is going to be more expensive.
 
2012-05-28 03:31:40 PM
Bondith:
When the helium runs out, chemistry will be set back seventy years or so.

Current estimates show about 40 TRILLION cubic meters of available helium in natural gas deposits around the world. Yes, that's trillion with a "t". Current consumption is about 170 million cubic meters per year. We're not going to run out for a very, VERY long time.

The only reason we don't extract a lot more of it is because we had such a massive stockpile in the US (and a couple of other countries) driving the price down to about 1/10 of its "natural" market price.

Building a helium extraction machine in a natural gas processing plant isn't a technical challenge at all - it's been done for almost a hundred years. It's just a bit pricey, and with the huge stockpile the US had (until recently), it wasn't an issue.

No, we're not going to run out of helium. There are other large plants under construction in other countries (there are two operating already). The US alone has over twenty smaller plants running right now. We could also get a lot from modifying the various high-volume neon extraction plants in operation.

All it would take is a near-term shortage, and someone could easily build a large cryogenic helium extraction system into one of the big natural gas terminals in less than a year if it was needed.

Stop freaking out. You're being a "short-sighted tool."
 
2012-05-28 03:35:08 PM

Lost Thought 00: There is nothing Helium can do that Hydrogen can't.


Stay liquid below 20K? Be a quantum fluid? Be composed of almost noninteracting bosons?
 
2012-05-28 03:55:15 PM

cyrus_hunter: Huck And Molly Ziegler: Trolljegeren: LandStander: The sun is, like, 28% helium. Let's just go there and collect it. And I know what you're thinking, that's why we'll go at night.

I insist on sending our political and business leaders; they're the right people for this job.

I think we should put our top men on the job.

Who?


Top. Men.
 
2012-05-28 04:33:29 PM
Why not use nitrogen for supercooling things? Nitrogen is plentiful, cold and doesn't have the annoying quantum properties of helium.
 
2012-05-28 04:52:19 PM
The last time I read about this issue was in, like, 1990. You mean to tell me that no one has done anything about it?
 
2012-05-28 04:55:52 PM

stuhayes2010: Why not use nitrogen for supercooling things? Nitrogen is plentiful, cold and doesn't have the annoying quantum properties of helium.


Liquid nitrogen has a temperature of 70K, so you can only easily use it to cool things to 70K.

Often, you need to get a good bit colder than that for superconductors (or just seeing how things operate around 4K)
 
2012-05-28 04:56:02 PM
If this was a real issue the price of helium would be much higher.

Supply & Demand, etc.

If the supply shrinks, then the price will go up, and people would obtain more to sell it.
 
2012-05-28 04:56:49 PM

DammitIForgotMyLogin: And yet idiots still keep using it to fill their party balloons.


If the amount of helium in party balloons actually mattered, they would be more expensive.
 
2012-05-28 05:01:40 PM

thurstonxhowell: DammitIForgotMyLogin: And yet idiots still keep using it to fill their party balloons.

If the amount of helium in party balloons actually mattered, they would be more expensive.


I should expand on that. If this was a real, honest to god, "sky is falling" scenario, speculators would be buying the government stockpiles and holding them, natural gas producers would be spending big bucks figuring out how to capture it better, and party balloons would be banned as a matter of national security.

This issue takes one simple fact - the US government is selling off its helium supply - and breathlessly speculating that it will end science as we know it. That's simply not true, and, frankly, it's kind of silly.
 
2012-05-28 05:17:40 PM

dragonchild: TFA: "We very much hope that this is short-term problem," Burton said.

No, it isn't.

BTW, read the comments in TFA if you want to get an idea of just how badly we're farked.


I wouldn't read too much into the comments. It's Detroit. They're living in Mad Max times.
 
2012-05-28 05:28:21 PM
Jupiter's atmos is, like, 10% helium. Problem solved.
 
2012-05-28 06:00:15 PM
upload.wikimedia.org

Does not approve of helium shortages.

/oh, the huge manatee
 
2012-05-28 06:56:41 PM

Tax Boy: [upload.wikimedia.org image 260x198]

Does not approve of helium shortages.

/oh, the huge manatee


www.awn.com

sees what you did there...
 
2012-05-28 06:59:32 PM

namatad: And, this is really just a short term supply and demand problem. At what point does the massive increase in natural gas production produce a massive increase in He production? If there is enough of a profit, the He will be harvested. If not, it will be vented into space.


Most natural gas deposits have a little helium in them, but generally in wildly uneconomical ratios. They aren't created by the same process. Any Earth-formation helium on Earth has been gone for billions of years. What we have is captured alpha-decay particles (aka Helium) of certain radioactive deposits (uranium, thorium), which are trapped by the same sort of domes that can trap methane.

In Kansas and the Texas panhandle at the turn of the last century, we found some natural gas wells that wouldn't stay lit. Because they were up to 10% helium. Which is economical to extract (crazy-ass cryogenic plants). Russia had a handful of gas fields with similar properties. In most gas wells though, just due to the distribution of the parent radioactive elements, helium is more like 1 part in a million. Which doesn't make sense to go to the substantial effort of trapping until helium goes up in price at least a hundred or even thousand-fold.
 
2012-05-28 07:39:41 PM
Lawnchair:
In most gas wells though, just due to the distribution of the parent radioactive elements, helium is more like 1 part in a million.

Helium has a higher concentration than that in the atmosphere - 5 ppm.

While you can find some low-helium gas wells like the ones you describe, most run a lot higher than 1 ppm - there are quite a few in the US alone with over 1% helium. Typical wells run between 0.1% and 0.5%. There are fields in Pennsylvania which yield 5% or so, and one in Mississippi that runs between 1% and 3% helium. I've been looking around a bit today, and a LOT of natural gas suppliers are adding helium extractors to their refining systems.

There is a LOT of helium down there - literally trillions of cubic meters of the stuff. No, it doesn't rely on upper-crustal radioactive decay - the entire core of the planet is heated by radioactive decay. The only reason we find more helium in some places is because of the structures of overlying rock with the right characteristics to hold it when it leaks up from really deep below.

By the way - there's a field in Mexico with 7% helium - the gas gets sent to the US for extraction now, but they're building a plant on site...
 
2012-05-28 08:06:10 PM
"Legislators opted to sell off its stores of the element and invite private companies to generate the supply. Things have not worked out as hoped."

"Legislators opted to sell off its stores of the element and invite private companies to generate the supply. Things have not worked out as hoped."

"Legislators opted to sell off its stores of the element and invite private companies to generate the supply. Things have not worked out as hoped."
 
2012-05-28 08:16:13 PM
Goodfella:
"Legislators opted to sell off its stores of the element and invite private companies to generate the supply. Things have not worked out as hoped."

Translation:
Legislators stupidly dumped a resource on the market at below-market prices, and the customers bought the below-market goods. Private companies are waiting for prices to rise to a profitable level before building the fairly simple machines to extract helium from readily available natural gas.

Moral: keep governmental idiots away from the market of any goods or services.
 
2012-05-28 08:39:55 PM

NewportBarGuy: The U.S. government, with the largest reserve in the world, chose to get out of the helium business in the mid-1990s. Legislators opted to sell off its stores of the element and invite private companies to generate the supply. Things have not worked out as hoped.


I'm completely shocked by this revelation.


When you pack government with fundamentalists who think the world is 6000 years old and that Jeebus is going to come back from the dead to save the world, it should come as no surprise to anyone that irreplaceable natural resources are squandered.
 
2012-05-28 09:25:36 PM
lohphat:
When you pack government with fundamentalists who think the world is 6000 years old and that Jeebus is going to come back from the dead to save the world, it should come as no surprise to anyone that irreplaceable natural resources are squandered.

You do realize, of course, that helium is extracted from natural gas that's going to be burned in the first place? And that the only thing the government did by collecting and selling helium at below-market prices was to encourage waste because it was so cheap, right? By eliminating the national reserve of the stuff, it gets the price down to something rational, instead of the too-cheap-by-90% it's been at for decades.
 
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