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Posted in New Industry
The US government is selling off its stored helium at low prices, prompting fears that supplies of this precious gas are going to be exhausted within thirty years. Helium is a non-renewable natural occurring element, formed from slowly decaying radioactive thorium and uranium elements deep inside the planet.
Some helium is in natural gas deposits but still needs to be captured and stored. If the price of helium is too low, then oil and gas companies don not even bother capturing the helium, instead they release it into the atmosphere. Once released, helium dissipates in the atmosphere and cannot be recovered. It also cannot be bio-synthetically produced, so conserving its use and recycling it is the only way to ensure it can be kept for future use.
Over 80% of the helium comes from within a 250 mile (402km) radius of Amrillo, Texas but since 1996 US Congress mandated that the stored helium should be sold off by 2015 as the cost of capture and storage was too high.
Helium is used, apart from inflating balloons or making people’s voices squeaky, in medical scanners, electronics and microchip production, welding, to pressurize rocket fuel tanks and to cool scientific instruments such as infra-red sensors on spacecraft. According to Wired, NASA Kennedy Space Centre alone uses 75 million cubic feet annually.
An isotope of helium that is missing a neutron, called helium-3, is the fuel for nuclear fusion that may just provide the world with a clean, infinite power source. Helium-3 can be made from helium, or you could go to the Moon and get it since the Sun pushes out helium that gets trapped in the Moon’s soil. It may be a good reason for setting up a Moon colony in the future, just to easily mine helium-3 and send it back to Earth for use in fusion reactors. However it would seem to be a better idea to conserve Earth’s helium, rather than squander the precious resource only to discover later that you have run out.
Via Wired & SpaceNews
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