Climate Craziness of the Week – global warming causing helium shortage

Oh, the stupid, it burns.

Helium shortage threatens time-honored Nebraska tradition | Dr. Saturday – Yahoo! Sports http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/ncaaf-dr-saturday/helium-shortage-threatens-time-honored-nebraska-tradition-152527242–ncaaf.html

Face palm! Unfortunately, there’s this nagging little detail about the noble gas, Helium, one of the most stable and chemically inert elements there is. 

Helium is a result of radioactive decay. I don’t think global warming is powerful enough to overcome the forces in the nucleus of an atom yet.

On Earth it is thus 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), 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.

How hard could this have been to look up?

BTW Methane CH4 (Natural gas) is lighter than air, maybe they’ll switch to that and endure the caterwauling for releasing a GHG about 20 times more potent than CO2.

h/t to Marc Morano

UPDATE: Maybe the National Helium Reserve will be brought to bear in this crisis. Who knew?

The National Helium Reserve, also known as the Federal Helium Reserve, is a strategic reserve of the United States holding over a billion cubic meters (1E9 m3) of helium gas. The helium is stored at the Cliffside Storage Facility about 12 miles (19 km) northwest of Amarillo, Texas, in a natural geologic gas storage formation, the Bush Dome reservoir. The reserve was established in 1925 as a strategic supply of gas for airships, and in the 1950s became an important source of coolant during the Space Race and Cold War.

h/t to Chris Horner

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R. Shearer
August 16, 2012 11:46 am

It might not have been sarcasm, afterall the “N” on the Nebraska helmets stands for “Knowledge.”

John-X
August 16, 2012 11:47 am

“I think we can all blame global warming ON this unfortunate turn of events.”
The helium shortage CAUSED global warming.
Way to go for the full stupid, “Dr. Saturday.”

Doug Huffman
August 16, 2012 11:48 am

If only stupid did burn. Imagine the immolation, auto-da-fe, of the gullible.

August 16, 2012 11:52 am

Helium shortage may be caused by the closing in 2013 of the U.S. government program that sells helium to commercial entities from the underground government reserve facility in Texas. If this closing will happen, it will be a result of the failure on the part of the U.S. Congress to renew the program. In this case, price of “crude” (unrefined) helium may spike for a while, until the free market picks up the slack. It has nothing to do whatever with any “global warming” fantasies.

Steve C
August 16, 2012 11:53 am

Or of course they could try hydrogen – even less of a shortage of that, I hope. A short, lit fuse on each balloon would give ’em a celebration to remember!

Doug Huffman
August 16, 2012 11:53 am

I noticed the source, unnamed, of “Most terrestrial helium present today is created by the natural radioactive decay…” Is there another source for He?
He is beyond a mere novelty. The technology to replace its capabilities in high-tech will be unimaginably expensive, particularly as the climate warms.
REPLY: The source is Wikipedia, with the link in “look up” – Anthony

August 16, 2012 11:53 am

John-X : Absolutely correct.
Helium, being lighter than air, carries excess heat up into space. As the amount of Helium dwindles, the heat stays near the ground causing warming.
🙂

Ged
August 16, 2012 12:05 pm

@Doug Huffman,
Are you trying to insinuate in your last sentence that global temperatures have anything to do with helium?
Helium’s special property is that we can use it to cool things down to 4-6 kelvin, and its non reactive. This is important for superconductivity and other extremely low temperature phenomenon. Helium is lost to space (it cannot be sequestered in large molecules like hydrogen is), which is why it’s so rare on our planet, and we can only get more of it through radioactive decay.
Temperatures of his planet have nothing to do with it or helium’s applications.

Pat Frank
August 16, 2012 12:06 pm

The comment about global warming doesn’t appear in Randy York’s article about helium at Huskers.com.
It doesn’t appear in the original article at the Lincoln Journal Star, either. Nor in 16 comments underneath the LJS article.
It’s a fairly safe guess that “Dr. Saturday” (Graham Watson) was being sarcastic, blaming the He shortage on global warming. After all, everything else is blamed on global warming. Why not the helium shortage?

Phil.
August 16, 2012 12:07 pm

sunshinehours1 says:
August 16, 2012 at 11:53 am
John-X : Absolutely correct.
Helium, being lighter than air, carries excess heat up into space.

Not so much that it’s lighter than air, it actually has thermal velocities in excess of escape velocity, (Jeans escape), the loss to space is about 50 grams/sec.

Doug Huffman
August 16, 2012 12:09 pm

Yes, thank you. It leaves open the possibility of another source of 2He4 other than mining it. I don’t recall an 2He4 synthesis reaction that might replace lost mining stocks.

fp
August 16, 2012 12:14 pm

Pretty sure that’s a joke, given the tone of the article, the complete lack of any supporting evidence, and the fact that it’s a sports blog.

timetochooseagain
August 16, 2012 12:15 pm

Can someone explain to me how you can run out of an element? Unless we’ve been building Helium fusion reactors or bombs, there shouldn’t be any decrease in the amount of Helium on Earth.
I suppose that it getting diffused into the atmosphere makes it less easy to get? I suppose so, since I have just learned we apparently get it from underground!
BTW, if the stuff is found in natural gas deposits, how can we be having a gas boom without also getting tons of Helium?

Tom Jones
August 16, 2012 12:22 pm

I never understood the logic. What am I missing? It just seems like a totally disconnected remark. In that sense, it’s kind of humorous. Blame global warming for anything and everything, including things that are obviously of no relation whatsoever. It’s better than just making stuff up, which also seems to be happening.

Bob
August 16, 2012 12:23 pm

Is it official before it is posted to John Brignell’s list?
http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/warmlist.htm

mkelly
August 16, 2012 12:28 pm

“…in a natural geologic gas storage formation, the Bush Dome reservoir.”
See it is Bush’s fault.

August 16, 2012 12:35 pm

OT…Jonova seems to be down…again. She needs a refund.

August 16, 2012 12:39 pm

High squeaky voices may be a thing of the past, children in the future simply won’t understand….sarc, of course.

MikeN
August 16, 2012 12:40 pm

Probably sarcasm. Many years ago, a writer wrote that Roger Clemens record would be ~25-0 if he could get some run support. This prompted a scathing column from Rob Neyer who ran all the stats about what great run support Clemens has been getting. He never noticed the writer was joking.

August 16, 2012 12:42 pm

I blame global warming for my divorce, as well. Also: bed bugs! When will “scientists” make the connection between the explosive growth in the bedbug population and global warming?

highflight56433
August 16, 2012 12:44 pm

“The technology to replace its capabilities in high-tech will be unimaginably expensive, particularly as the climate warms.”
There is not going to be any technology to replace He…as the price continues to climb the private sector will take over the production as the government is mandated to end control, prices will stabilize. Last I checked, outdoor temperatures are not a consideration for producing He. The lesson is that anything that the US government controls is a mess, costing you more and will go broke. Social Security is an example.
Filling balloons with CH4 + O2 is a lot more exciting…fuse included.

August 16, 2012 12:47 pm

More on Helium: http://www.leif.org/research/Helium.pdf
All the primordial Helium on Earth is long lost. What we have now is the decay product of radioactivity in the rocks and takes billions of years to replace.

August 16, 2012 12:49 pm

Or maybe the army’s new spy blimps are sucking up all the supply.
http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/Rise-of-the-Blimps-The-US-Armys-LEMV-06438/

Gary
August 16, 2012 12:51 pm

Use hydrogen. I hear there’s an abundance of it in the universe…

MJ
August 16, 2012 12:55 pm

Another tradition in Nebraska football going away. Husker fans are barely hanging on…

Dan in California
August 16, 2012 1:02 pm

Senator William Proxmire waged a personal war on the US strategic helium reserve. He gave it a golden fleece award for “fleecing” the government and returning no value. He said the Navy has no more blimps, so we don’t need helium.
The company I work for spends several thousand dollars for helium every year, and we are always looking for ways to use less. Part of the problem is that the price is so low that natural gas suppliers are letting it go rather than capturing it. And after you let it go…………. it’s gone forever.

August 16, 2012 1:05 pm

What an interesting story, Anthony! Nothing about the Arctic today? Nothing about record lows? You prefer to talk about Helium do you?
REPLY: Are you incapable of scanning the front page of WUWT?
Apparently so. We covered the issue in-depth this week on 8/13:
Sea Ice News – Volume 3 Number 10 – ARCUS August Sea Ice Outlook posted, plus worries over Arctic storm breaking up sea ice
And of course, I cover the issue in depth every day, 24/7 on our Sea Ice Reference Page
I think your opinion needs more testing, and less operational use. Cheers. – Anthony

NZ Willy
August 16, 2012 1:06 pm

Jeez, use hydrogen, cheap, plentiful, more effective, and perfectly safe to use in small quantities by anyone except imbeciles — ok, there’s a lot of those. NASA (or someone) is designing a new generation of air-blimps — hey, the wave of the future, guys, Buck Rogers was right! — and they use *hydrogen* because of its superior lifting qualities and availability.

Big D in TX
August 16, 2012 1:09 pm

As anyone else who does technical diving can tell you, a large part of the cost of gas mixes is helium. From what I understand, there is a finite amount of helium on earth and it’s not very easy or cost effective (yet…) to produce (this is versus say, hydrogen… just zap water, wham bam thank you maam).
Helium has all manner of important medical and scientific applications, and it irks me to see it wasted in so many balloons all over the place.
Fun fact: your local grocery store likely sells only one brand of mylar helium balloons (you know, the ones that say happy birthday and have children’s characters on them near the check-out). This is because helium is so expensive. The balloon companies competitively subsidize the cost of helium for the store in exchange for an exclusivity contract.
My company will very occasionally purchase from a local supplier (helium wholesaler) for special events. In May I paid $80 for 100 cubic feet.

JamesS
August 16, 2012 1:13 pm

Methinks someone’s leg came off in someone’s hand.

August 16, 2012 1:17 pm

The helium that is in that reserve in Texas came from the oilfields of the early 20th century

daveburton
August 16, 2012 1:18 pm

Most natural gas contains little or no helium. But some natural gas wells in (only!) the United States produce a lot of helium mixed in with the methane.
We can be having a natural gas boom and a simultaneous helium shortage if the fracked gas contains no helium, as is apparently the case.

Bill Marsh
August 16, 2012 1:24 pm

Don’t fusion reactors create Helium?

Bill Marsh
August 16, 2012 1:25 pm

I’m not sure, but I think that may have been some lame attempt at sarcastic humor of one form or another.

John West
August 16, 2012 1:25 pm

I’m in the it’s sarcasm camp, but I’m sarcasm biased.
Don’t be alarmed by peak helium; we’ll just get it from the moon.
http://news.discovery.com/space/this-moon-was-made-for-mining-helium-3.html

JJ
August 16, 2012 1:39 pm

As I recall, the US has a few thousand unused helium synthesis devices in inventory. Capture might be challenging.

Hot under the collar
August 16, 2012 1:46 pm

Methinks it was Nitrous Oxide they filled the balloons with and inhaled most of it!

G. Karst
August 16, 2012 1:46 pm

Helium is used in large volumes by many nuclear plants, industrially as well as research. Supply problems and worries, have been around since the 60s. It is a real concern… just doesn’t have anything to do with GW. GK

ShrNfr
August 16, 2012 1:48 pm

You wonder how many of these cretins could name the third most common gas in the atmosphere. Their brains “are gone” so to speak.

Gunga Din
August 16, 2012 1:53 pm

David Thomas Bronzich says:
August 16, 2012 at 12:39 pm
High squeaky voices may be a thing of the past, children in the future simply won’t understand….
=============================================================================
Nothing to worry about. Since the pronouncements of Hansenites is becoming more shrill that proves that there is still plenty of He around.
(Hmmmm…..unless they’re using it all up for their press releases. In that case, maybe CAGW HAS caused a shortage.)

Mickey Reno
August 16, 2012 1:57 pm

Oooh, this deserves a Cornhusker joke. This story is from a few years back, when Nebraska was a real college football powerhouse. As it happens, its best football player was struggling in class, and was placed on academic suspension prior to the last home game of the season, a game the team needed to win to advance to the Orange Bowl. University officials huddled with the NCAA and came up with a remedial plan that required the player to pass a proficiency exam before he could suit up for the game.
Nebraska officials decided the player needed as much time as possible to study for the exam, so they scheduled an oral exam, on the 50 yard line, right before the coin toss of the football game. The player had to score 75% or better, and there were 4 questions on the test, one each from the subjects of English, Math, Geography and Physical Education. He studied and studied, cracking his advanced English book, his advanced Math book, his advanced Geography book and his advanced PE book.
Finally the day of the big game arrived. The player, suited up in full pads and carrying his helmet, nervously trotted out onto the field. The full house of screaming fans went crazy, cheering for their best player. The University President came out to administer the test. “Question number one,” he announced into the public address system microphone. “This is your physical education question: Can you do 25 push-ups?” The player thought and thought, and finally said, “YES!” “That’s RIGHT!” said the university president, and the crowd roared with joy!
The university president was beaming as he asked the next question. “The next question is from the subject of Geography. Name the Capitol of Nebraska, and I can give you a hint, it’s the city you’re in right now!” The player looked startled, hemmed and hawed a bit, then just as he was about to give up and say he didn’t know the answer, he looked up at the stadium scoreboard where the scoreboard operator had flashed the message “Welcome to Lincoln Nebraska!. “Lincoln?” said the player tentatively, noticeably trying to pronounce the silent ‘L’. “That’s right!” And the crowd again went wild!
“All right, quiet down, everyone, we need to continue,” said the University president, “and let me remind you, he only needs to answer one of the remaining two question correctly to pass. Your next question, in the subject of English is this: spell CAT.” The player looked like a deer in the headlights. He didn’t know the test was going to be this hard. He heard lots of people from the stands shouting out lots of suggestions, but there were so many that it all sounded like white noise. He thought and thought and finally stuttered out “K-A-T!” “No, I’m sorry, that is incorrect,” said the president. “The correct answer is C-A-T.” The crowd groaned.
An intense hush filled the stadium, as the president reminded them he needed to answer the final question correctly to be eligible to play. “From the subject of mathematics, and I want no help from the audience, please. What is 2 plus 2?” The player was ready. He’d studied his advanced math, and knew this one cold. He confidently stepped up to the mic and said “FOUR.” A huge gasp of horror went through the crowd as they all began to chant “GIVE HIM ANOTHER CHANCE!”
[ba dump bump] I’m here all week. Remember to tip your waitstaff.

jorgekafkazar
August 16, 2012 1:58 pm

It’s sarcasm, ridiculing the notion that a small amount of a trace gas (or balloons) in the atmosphere could affect temperatures.

jorgekafkazar
August 16, 2012 2:00 pm

ShrNfr says: “You wonder how many of these cretins could name the third most common gas in the atmosphere. Their brains “are gone” so to speak.”
And nobody is healing ’em.

son of mulder
August 16, 2012 2:02 pm

The abundance of hydrocarbons to provide energy means not enough investment has been put into developing commercial fusion reactors which would produce Helium as a by product. So as CO2 has increased such Helium has not been produced. At this rate our grandchildren will be deprived of the opportunity to hear a Helium induced squeaky voice, so we should also add this to our crimes against future generations ;>)

corio37
August 16, 2012 2:07 pm

To get the full effect you have to read the article in a high squeaky voice.

John another
August 16, 2012 2:12 pm

What with the GE connection to the current administration, one would think it would be a piece of cake for them to get a subsidy for this element vital to their MRI magnets.
I think we can forget about GE paying a price that would justify natural gas producers isolating and storing helium on their own.
Meanwhile with the constant attack by the left and the media on natural gas and the ensuing glut, I don’t see much incentive for the producers to produce either methane or helium.
Don’t forget the President (Clinton) who signed the decentralization of helium storage away from the feds to the free market heavily promoted natural gas and expected that our cars, trucks and a great deal of our co-gens to run on it.

Berényi Péter
August 16, 2012 2:22 pm

The National Helium Reserve is severely depleted (is mandated to be sold off entirely by 2015), due to the Helium Privatization Act of 1996.

A Lovell
August 16, 2012 2:34 pm

It’s a joke folks. Further down the article it says:
“What remains of Lincoln’s dwindling helium supply is being saved for local hospitals, which need it to cool MRI magnets and for lab experiments. And local construction companies need it for tools.
“We want to be good stewards,” Ethan Rowley, NU director of athletic marketing, told the paper. “We don’t want to take away helium from hospitals and industries that need it more than we do right now.”
Don’t people understand that they’re messing with tradition here?”
=======
I would say that last sentence is the giveaway.

August 16, 2012 2:48 pm

WSJ Aug. 10, 2012 – Giant Helium Reserve Awaits Likely Closure (My comment # 6)
Helium is one substance for which there is NO SUBSTITUTE for many types of superconducting devices. It is the only substance that can be liquid at low enough temperatures to allow certain metals and alloys to superconduct.
Liquid hydrogen can be for some materials that will superconduct at above 20 deg k, but that it is too warm for many of the best manufacturing alloys. Hydrogen is dangerous to handle as it is explosive as a gas in a wide range of air mixtures.
Liquid Neon (27 deg K) is safe, but warmer still.
There are several high temperature superconducters that can be cooled by the fourth coldest substance, Liquid Nitrogen at 77 deg K But these ceramic, High Temperature superconductors are much harder to manufacture into superconducting magnets than the metals alloys that can superconduct with helium.
Helium on Earth is the radio active decay of uranium and thorium over millions of years of that accumulate in porous rock natural gas traps.
The only bright side is that if we squander our He found in Natural gas traps, we can probably still obtain He by Fracking “Hot” Shales. “Hot” is a term used for high gamma ray shales with relatively high concentrations of radioactive uranium and thorium. Maybe technology will come to the rescue again. Won’t be cheap, but it’s a way won’t run out of helium.

Dave N
August 16, 2012 2:59 pm

1. I wonder if Dr Saturday actually asked Big Reds the reason for the shortage?
2. How long did it take Alexander Feht to find out about the closure?
3. How many more times will journalists be extremely lazy and just attribute everything gas related to “global warming”?

August 16, 2012 3:05 pm

And in Australia, environmentally sensitive folks decry the release of helium balloons at funerals and other such functions. The argument is that they are blown out over the Pacific Ocean where they fall and add to the pollution, being eaten by turtles etc. Urban myth has it that the record flight was a balloon that made it to Vanuatu- doubtful, as they should continue to ascend until they burst.
Ken

Werner Brozek
August 16, 2012 3:18 pm

timetochooseagain says:
August 16, 2012 at 12:15 pm
Can someone explain to me how you can run out of an element?

Some very basic laws are the law of conservation of mass which basically says mass cannot be created or destroyed, but merely transformed into different compounds. Then there is the law of conservation of energy that says energy cannot be created or destroyed but can be transformed into different types of energy. Then with Einstein’s equation E = mc2, these laws are combined into one that basically says (mass + energy) cannot be created or destroyed. There is no law that says helium cannot be created or destroyed. As a matter of fact, different stars in the universe create helium from hydrogen and destroy helium to produce heavier elements and release energy in the process.
As far as the earth is concerned, helium is created by nuclear decay, but as noted by someone else, it reaches escape velocity high up in the atmosphere. The reason is that if we have a mixture of gases at the same temperature, their kinetic energy is the same. The formula for kinetic energy is E = 1/2mv2. So helium, with a mass of 4, has to go a lot faster than diatomic oxygen with a mass of 32 in order to have the same temperature.
The ability of a gas to escape depends on its temperature as well as the strength of the gravitational field. Jupiter for example has a larger gravitational field and is also colder than the earth. As as result, Jupiter is able to hang on to its helium.

August 16, 2012 3:23 pm

There will be plenty of helium when Bussard Inertial electrostatic confinement reactors are running on p- B11. It is the waste product. I guess you could use them to make it even if they didn’t provide energy break even.

EternalOptimist
August 16, 2012 3:24 pm

oh noes. Peak Helium

Entropic man
August 16, 2012 3:48 pm

“At current production rates of about 2 billion cubic feet per year, the reservoir could continue to produce helium for five to six more years.”
This is from the Popular Mechanics article.This is potentially a much bigger problem than a silly remark about football!

brc
August 16, 2012 3:59 pm

My local council has passed a ban on the release of helium balloons, so think yourself lucky you can even do this.
The national helium reserve – helium shortage in pre-war Germany was the reason they used Hydrogen to fill their airships, which is why the Hindenburg was a giant explosion looking for somewhere to ignite. The Germans didn’t have the production facilities to produce helium that the US had (and has).

Alan Watt, CD (Certified Denialist), Level 7
August 16, 2012 4:21 pm

This is a regular occurrence — every four years caused by the US election cycle. As party conventions approach commercial helium stocks are depleted in preparation for massive helium balloon events. Stock are further depleted during the actual campaign with a final spasm of helium balloon binging at the inaguration. Stocks will recover end of the first quarter next year and remain abundant for another three years.

PaulH
August 16, 2012 4:27 pm

My memory is a bit hazy on this, but I seem to remember reading some time ago a critic of industrialization at the dawn of the industrial revolution claiming that the fires of industry powering factories, locomotives, smelters, etc would eventually consume all the oxygen in the atmosphere. Since planetary suffocation would be an epic catastrophe, all these fires must be extinguished and the industrial revolution stopped cold.
Now I do not know if this critic really existed or ever made such statements, but it seems to follow the standard alarmist thread,,,

Jakehig
August 16, 2012 4:36 pm

Bit harsh, brc: the Germans ran a reliable long-distance airship service for many years with an excellent service record, despite using hydrogen. The loss of the Hindenburg has never been fully-explained and there were strong suspicions of sabotage. The cost of helium made it prohibitive for all but the US.

Lark
August 16, 2012 4:52 pm

/sarc
You’re winning the war on CAGW and you’re too tired to tell?
[resuming:] sarc/

Doug Huffman
August 16, 2012 5:29 pm

Thanks Dr. Leif, not least for notation akin to that which I learned at H. G. Rickover’s knee.

ShrNfr
August 16, 2012 5:38 pm

@Jakehig Actually, painting the outer shell with paint that contained enough iron and aluminum to essentially make it thermite didn’t help. That was the conclusion of the German investigation.
@Werner Brozek, Most helium is produced from natural gas wells, the helium released in the atmosphere is of such a low concentration that “distilling” it out would be major expense. Kinda like shredding a book. The pieces are still there, but good luck putting them back together again.

George E. Smith
August 16, 2012 5:48 pm

How could there be a Helium shortage ? It basically doesn’t react with anything, and the stars make it all the time.
Gotta be plenty of Helium .

August 16, 2012 6:41 pm

@WernerBrozek and ShrNfr
Atomic number nor distillation have anything to do with Helium loss….it is terminal velocity [not ‘thermal velocity’ as above] due to Helium buoyancy. With a Specific Gravity of 0.16, it accelerates to faster than gravitional attraction and is never returned to Earth. Helium is a STRATIGIC material used in “Heli-arc Welding” to prevent Hydrogen embritlement in Alunimum welding as well as in superconductors. One must wonder the wisdom of frivilous waste of this one time only resource. It is produced, along with inert Radon that has a half life of 3.8 days, ONLY from nuclear decay and neither is around for long. [fusion produced Helium may never be a manmade reality]. A pound of Radon becomes 1/8 ounce in 21 days and SPIKES in underground deposits just prior to volcanic eruptions and Earthquakes….indicating VARIABLE Earth fission rates, causing variable HEAT and variable subterrarean pressure. Matter is never created or destroyed….so the ‘other’ neutrons & protons from fission go on to produce ‘other’ elemental atoms. Some ‘elemental’ Hydrogen, Carbon and Oxygen atoms then go on to produce “Natural Gas”. The reason there is CH4 under every rock you frack….is that Earth is an Elemental Petrol Production planet.

Clay Marley
August 16, 2012 6:55 pm

Its sad that global warming alarmism has gotten so crazy that we don’t know whether or not the author is trying to be funny or serious.

D. Robinson
August 16, 2012 7:02 pm

This hits close to home for me, the laser machines I sell need Helium to operate. When there’s a shortage the competition selling solid state lasers makes a bid deal of this. Here is what actually happened:
When the US government decided in 1996 to sell their reserves by 2013, they ended up keeping the prices artificially low. So low, that it’s not financially worthwhile for gas drillers to capture the helium released as a byproduct of their operation so they let it go. It’s lost in the atmosphere and it escapes to space.
When the US government raises their prices, or sells out the reserves the price will go up by 2, 3 or 4 times and it will be worthwhile to capture again. By the way, Air Products is opening three new helium plants over the next year outside of the USA. The supply shortage will end when the price goes up a bit.
The fact that it’s an element and there is a finite amount trapped in the earth will eventually cause a peak helium problem. But nobody knows how far out that is. Them’s the facts. Here’s two good articles.
http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/health/med-tech/why-is-there-a-helium-shortage-10031229
http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/06/22/the-cost-of-funny-voices-helium-shortage-sends-prices-soaring/

August 16, 2012 7:42 pm

Terminal velocity is normally associated with falling objects into an increasingly thicker atmosphere, that over come gravitational acceleration due to wind resistance. Escape velocity is the outbound component to overcome gravity, but it is useful to consider outbound terminal velocity which would not be a constant. The terminal velocity of Helium atoms would be subject to temperature, barometric pressure, humidity and even lunar position. None of these factors could reduce the required escape velocity. The entire Universe is on a one-way path to a uniform distribution of Hydrogen and Helium atoms….at about zero Kelvin….which is a chilling distant future. Since this is yet another government ordered pump-and-dump, you’ve got to wonder how many Congressmen got the “insider trading memo” on Helium futures ?

Gunga Din
August 16, 2012 7:59 pm

Fred McMurray and Disney had the answer to the Cornhuskers’ dilemma way before there was even an ozone hole for the He to escape through. Flubber Gas!

Werner Brozek
August 16, 2012 8:12 pm

Faux Science Slayer says:
August 16, 2012 at 6:41 pm
@WernerBrozek and ShrNfr
Atomic number nor distillation have anything to do with Helium loss….it is terminal velocity [not ‘thermal velocity’ as above] due to Helium buoyancy.

I do not agree with the above. From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terminal_velocity
The definition of terminal velocity is:
“In fluid dynamics, an object is moving at its terminal velocity if its speed is constant due to the restraining force exerted by the fluid through which it is moving.”
So if a human fell out of a plane, the human would accelerate down until the force of air resistance upward is equal to the force of gravity downward. At that point, no further acceleration occurs and the body is said to have reached terminal velocity. Helium loss in the upper atmosphere has absolutely nothing to do with terminal velocity.
Now as for ‘thermal velocity’, I used the term ‘escape velocity’, but thermal velocity is:
“The thermal velocity or thermal speed is a typical velocity of the thermal motion of particles which make up a gas, liquid, etc.” See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_velocity
So I could say that when the thermal velocity is equal to the escape velocity, and when this escape velocity occurs so high up and in the direction away from Earth, the helium can escape. It DOES have a great deal to do with atomic number. To illustrate, an ozone molecule whose mass is 48 and whose temperature is the same as that of a helium atom, will NOT escape, even when a collision forces it to go away from Earth where the molecules are very sparse. But the helium atom, whose mass is only 4 would escape.
As for buoyancy, that concept applies to objects in water, but not to individual gas molecules. If it did, you would never see chlorofluorocarbons high up in the stratosphere. Mind you, helium would get up there faster from the ground, but once there, helium can escape, but the chlorofluorocarbons cannot escape.
(P.S. I have an engineering degree and have taught physics and chemistry for 40 years. Of course that does not mean I cannot make a mistake. : – )

Kevin Kilty
August 16, 2012 8:20 pm

The helium in the Cliffside field was originally found in gas wells in Kansas. The largest present reserves of helium, something like 20 times that in the Cliffside reserve, are found in gas wells in two fields in Wyoming. Exxon runs a separation facility at LaBarge, Wyoming. These wells also have an anomalously high fraction (up to 60%) of carbon dioxide. There are wells also in Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico that have anomalous levels of carbon dioxide, but I am unsure about the fraction of helium they contain. The coincident occurrence of helium and carbon dioxide suggests that the source of gas is the Earth’s mantle. If so, the helium is probably primordial, though I suppose some could have come from radioactive decay.

Werner Brozek
August 16, 2012 8:30 pm

Faux Science Slayer says:
August 16, 2012 at 7:42 pm
The terminal velocity of Helium atoms would be subject to temperature, barometric pressure, humidity and even lunar position.

I would only agree that: “The terminal velocity of a feather would be subject to temperature, barometric pressure, humidity and even lunar position.” But an individual atom is not subject to friction that can slow it down. Its speed is determined by its own most recent speed and the orientation and mass and speed of the most recent molecule it collided with.

Kevin Quitberg
August 16, 2012 8:57 pm

The CO2 that Exxon gets from its natural gas fields in the Wyoming Range is used to enhance (repressurize) depleted oil fields throughout Utah and Wyoming. They are also one of the largest Helium producers in the world. When the Fontenelle fire went through the Wyoming range recently, burning over 60K acres of timber and sage, it put several of the wells Exxon has out of commission. I do not know whether they are back up and running. There was some shortage with these wells shut in during the worst of the fires. Helium is a big deal for Exxon. I understand not many are aware of this as it is completely out in the boondocks. Even the mentioned LaBarge isn’t that close to the Exxon facility, Kemmerer is closer. Opal is closer yet, all 68 people!
The little town of Opal is host to one of the largest natural gas hubs in the western United States, and trucks / railcars are constantly filling with propane there. There was even a case of domestic terrorism there as someone was planning on bombing the local terminal.

Gary
August 16, 2012 10:17 pm

8000 GW of fusion power could double the world’s production of He and go a long way towards a petroleum free / green house gas free economy.

August 16, 2012 10:27 pm

The “permlink”to the article does not work the way I would expect it to.

August 16, 2012 10:29 pm

Did I miss the mention of the anguish from avian (and other wildlife) and aviation interests over this ritual?

Dagfinn
August 16, 2012 11:09 pm

It’s a good thing helium is on Facebook. So we can all contribute by liking it.

August 16, 2012 11:13 pm

I blame the shortage on the shennanigans of Barry Kripke.
Nobody likes a wise quack. 😉

DirkH
August 17, 2012 12:22 am

Faux Science Slayer says:
August 16, 2012 at 6:41 pm
“[fusion produced Helium may never be a manmade reality]. ”
It is already a reality. Use a Farnsworth Fusor. It doesn’t produce net energy, and can’t for principal reasons, but it fuses. Used as a neutron source.
The only practical problem would be the tiny amount produced for the energy invested.
So I see Helium “shortage” as a simple supply- and demand problem. A low price simply indicates that there is still enough around, and that there is currently no shortage.

timetochooseagain
August 17, 2012 12:42 am

Werner Brozek-The elementary physics lesson was a bit patronizing. Obviously you could lose helium by fusing it to get some heavier element or splitting it and getting hydrogen. But none of those things are things humans do with helium, on Earth. To the extent we create fusion reactions, it’s generally with hydrogen, and to the extent we create fission reactions it’s typically with much heavier elements.
However, I have to admit I wasn’t aware that helium was being lost to space by the Earth’s atmosphere. That can’t be a terribly fast process, though, can it?

Scottish Sceptic
August 17, 2012 1:19 am

Somehow I think its all down to Mann
…. He ….He …. Heeeee. hheee, eeeee

Laurie Bown
August 17, 2012 7:20 am

Would this fall under the category of a Wiki leak?

Werner Brozek
August 17, 2012 8:02 am

timetochooseagain says:
August 17, 2012 at 12:42 am
Werner Brozek-The elementary physics lesson was a bit patronizing.
However, I have to admit I wasn’t aware that helium was being lost to space by the Earth’s atmosphere. That can’t be a terribly fast process, though, can it?

Please accept my apologies if I offended you. On blogs like this, I have no idea what your background is or for that matter what the background is of other people wanting an answer to the same question. When I replied to a similar question years ago, I was criticized for not going into the Boltzmann distribution in my answer. When I taught physics, I knew what previous knowledge I could expect my students to know. And I also knew the depth to which new material had to be covered. But in blogs like this, there is no limit in either direction.
At the following, http://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/archive/ci/31/i06/html/06chem.html,
I found this quote
“Once released from soil or water, a given helium atom remains in the atmosphere for a million years on average, after which it is irreversibly lost in space (3). Despite this long residence time, helium is considered a nonrenewable resource.”

beng
August 17, 2012 8:19 am

No problemo. Place a huge magnetic funnel near the earth & gather alpha particles from the solar wind. Or just take a big scoop outta the sun & pass it thru a H2-sieve. 🙂

Greg Roane
August 17, 2012 9:16 am

Where are the Enviro-Crazies on this? Although a latex balloon is biodegradeable (a year or two, maybe) the ribbon(s) are not – and the photo CLEARLY shows that some balloons are tied with ribbon. Some poor little fawn somewhere may inadvertently eat it…or something.
Oh, maybe all this AGW will accelerate the decomposition of the ribbon or flat-out kill all the deer before they can produce cute little fawns – so maybe the enviro-crazies aren’t all that concerned after all.

Kaboom
August 17, 2012 9:19 am

The destruction of the Hindenburg airship came about by the necessity to use hydrogen instead of helium for buoyancy. The US wouldn’t let Nazi Germany have any of that helium from the very same reserve to make it float safely.

Laurie Bowen
Reply to  Kaboom
August 17, 2012 8:52 pm

Kaboom . . . you referenced a sport link . . . C&P as follows. . .
“”””Oh, the stupid, it burns. Helium shortage threatens time-honored Nebraska tradition | Dr. Saturday – Yahoo! Sports http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/ncaaf-dr-saturday/helium-shortage-threatens-time-honored-nebraska-tradition-152527242–ncaaf.html Face palm! Unfortunately, there’s this nagging little detail about the noble gas, Helium, one of the most stable and chemically inert elements there is.””””
true true . . . but kaboom is not a sport!! I will try to let yahoo know that your link did not link . . . anyone out there have the same problem??? . . . . or is it just me???
Moderator, delete this if in anyway be considered not in the posting policy . . . I understand in advance . . .

Laurie Bown
August 17, 2012 10:26 am

Greg Roane . . . . stop poking the bear!

Henry Clark
August 17, 2012 12:42 pm

Neon is produced today by distillation from the atmosphere, as is Xenon. Helium’s number of ppm in Earth’s atmosphere is 30% as much as Neon albeit around 60 times more than Xenon. Of course, helium from natural gas is less expensive, but the capability to distill from the atmosphere puts a cap at least on potential price rise.

John Kettlewell
August 17, 2012 1:23 pm

“fractional distillation”
So you’re saying they frack after they frack….double frack. I hear watermelon heads exploding!!

Phil.
August 17, 2012 1:47 pm

timetochooseagain says:
August 17, 2012 at 12:42 am
However, I have to admit I wasn’t aware that helium was being lost to space by the Earth’s atmosphere. That can’t be a terribly fast process, though, can it?

As I said above it’s lost at about 50 gms/sec.
Faux Science Slayer says:
August 16, 2012 at 6:41 pm
Atomic number nor distillation have anything to do with Helium loss….it is terminal velocity [not ‘thermal velocity’ as above] due to Helium buoyancy.

Nothing to do with buoyancy it’s loss due to thermal velocities in excess of escape velocity, ( aka Jeans escape).

Lance Miller
August 17, 2012 1:55 pm

UPDATE: EPA reveals latex balloons found melted in mileamore bird nests in 2011. Hatchlings suffocating. Global warming, Cornhuskers blamed. Bird to go on endangered list .

Tim B
August 17, 2012 4:53 pm

Releasing Helium should produce a cooling effect as the balloons rise, expand and take thermal energy out of the earths atmosphere and into space. Helium is an excellent conductor of heat and it isn’t trapped by gravity like heavier gases.

Laurie Bowen
August 17, 2012 5:53 pm

@ Kaboom says:
August 17, 2012 at 9:19 am
It is my recollection that Russia had the most H2 at that time, assuming it was a fact that there was a lot of natural “gas” there. . . it was rare/there but expensive (but/and because of political implications). . . . I understand how the Kaboom happened (H) . . . to the Led Zeplin/Hindenberg.
Although, “transmutation” is/was/always will be possible, but, at the time not, economically feasible. . . it’s possible! . . . but, technically not very profitable,even today, . ..evidently “we” need more ingenious physical research!
TGIF!

Galane
August 17, 2012 10:39 pm

And now for the Next Big Thing. Sending a ship to Jupiter with the capacity to store a billion liters of Helium. Of course it won’t take up that much volume because it’ll be liquified for storage. Shouldn’t be too difficult to do as cold spots in deep solar space can be made just about anywhere by popping open a sun shade.
The storage ship will stay in Jupiter orbit, outside the rather nasty radiation zone. The collectors will zip in on parabolic trajectories, skimming the upper atmosphere, ramming gasses into tanks.
After their screaming fast transits they’ll fly back to the storage ship where the collected gasses will be separated. Undesired product will be put back aboard the collectors to be dumped back into the atmosphere of Jupiter while a small amount will be used for RCS thrusters.
It won’t be just helium they’ll be bringing back. There’s other rare gasses and possibly chemical compounds in Jupiter’s atmosphere that are in short supply or difficult to produce on Earth.
But wait! There’s more! After the second ship goes out, the third and later ones will be able to get to Jupiter quicker because they won’t have to carry as many or any collectors. When the full fleet of storage ships is in service, they’ll be arriving and departing on a regular schedule, all using the same collectors carried out by the early storage ships.
Think of it like resource production in a real-time strategy game. In the early game you only have a few units gathering resources so you’re almost always on the verge of running out. In the late game, if you’ve built well, you have more resources than you can use because there’s a constant stream of units shuttling back and forth from the resource deposits to your buildings which refine the resource.
With one storage ship with a billion liters of helium and other gasses aboard arriving in Earth orbit every two to three months, the prices would be dirt cheap – once the costs of the hardware put into space is paid off.
What would work out better is to establish a pricing plan for the product that adjusts in stages as more ships are put into service. Figure on a point where ships will have an end to their life so that as one ship is taken out of service, a new one replaces it. The end price of the product has to be high enough to produce enough net income for maintenance and replacement, plus, y’know, profit – the main reason most businesses exist.

pk
August 18, 2012 12:25 pm

timetochooseagain:
the railroads ship helium in very large tank cars. they are about 10 feet in diameter and 60 feet long. loaded weight is ~100 tons. three tons of that is the helium. (yes they cram it in there pretty tightly, working pressure is about 3000psi). the point is that helium is LIGHT in weight.
by the way, whenever you see a welder welding aluminum with a heliarc keep in mind he is bleeding about 10 cfm of helium into atmosphere as he works.
C

Dave F
August 21, 2012 12:18 pm

So we have a shortage of helium much of which is stored in the Bush Dome. Does that mean that it is Bush’s fault? But of course!

Brian H
August 24, 2012 2:04 am

If up to 7% of NG recovered is He, there’s no problem. Once the price rises to the point it’s worth capturing, there will be all we need. E.g.: 14.28 tcf of NG will yield up to 1 tcf of helium. Which is a sh**load.

Brian H
August 24, 2012 2:10 am

timetochooseagain says:
August 17, 2012 at 12:42 am
Werner Brozek-The elementary physics lesson was a bit patronizing. Obviously you could lose helium by fusing it to get some heavier element or splitting it and getting hydrogen. But none of those things are things humans do with helium, on Earth. To the extent we create fusion reactions, it’s generally with hydrogen, and to the extent we create fission reactions it’s typically with much heavier elements.

ttca;
My fave energy solution (which brushes aside and renders moot the entire CO2 warming fooforah) is LPPhysics.com ‘s boron fusion-fission process. H + B11 → C12 → 3 He . The total mass involved is not huge, but at least it will be contributing.

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