Nobel Prize winner: world runs out of Helium

6 Jun 2011

According to Physics Nobel Prize winner Robert Richardson, at the current rate of helium usage, ‘the world would run out in 25 years, plus or minus five years’.

This is troubling news for anyone who uses helium, and that’s not just stores selling party balloons.

Anyone getting an MRI is depending on helium, whose extremely stable, supercooling properties maintain the scanning machines’ superconductive magnets. Also it is widely used in welding, optical fibers and LCD screens.

There are no practical ways of extracting helium from the air. ‘Once it is released to the atmosphere, say in the form of party balloons or [scientists] boiling helium, it is lost to the Earth forever’, Richardson states.

US law requires the whole national reserve of helium to be sold off before 2015, which causes the price to stay artificially low. Some scientists have begun trying to recover and recycle helium after use, however that is an expensive process. At the current price level recycling is not viable.

Richardson suggests raising the price of helium. ’I would think that a factor of five or 10 times that price would be better,” he said. “If helium was to be valued more, then it will be worth recovering.”


From: Leslie Tamura (October 11, 2010) Nation’s helium reserve running on empty? Washington Post