Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Russians want to save us from the coming helium shortage

The Earth is running out of helium. Really! There's a limited supply; if you've forgotten your high-school chemistry, remember that helium is an element, and the only way to create it is through a nuclear reaction, and the helium we have is the byproduct of years of natural radioactive decay underground. And we're squandering helium at such a rate that the U.S. reserves will be almost all gone in 2015.

As any kid and they'll tell you that helium is awesome. I agree! As supporting evidence I point you to a fascinating article that opens, "This article is about the extraordinary gas helium". It would be a shame to have a future without helium.

But the future isn't totally bleak: Al-Jazeera is reporting that Russia plans to mine the moon for helium in 2020. (I never thought I would be typing THAT sentence.) I am a little sad because I doubt they'll let us use moon-helium to blow up balloons.

Update, 8/1/2006: In the past week or so, I'm getting tons of hits on this page, from all over the world. I'm curious why there's a sudden surge in interest for "Helium Shortage". Was there a recent event or story about the coming helium shortage? Is it happening sooner than we anticipated? If you're a recent visitor, and you can shed some insight, let me know. Thanks!

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28 Comments:

At 2:56 PM, August 02, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I'm curious why there's a sudden surge in interest for "Helium Shortage"."

BOC has announced an across the board reduction of Liquid Helium deliveries of 15% for the next few months, and they aren't taking on new customers. BOC recently agreed to sell the LHe operations to Taiyo Nipon Sanso.

 
At 1:56 PM, August 07, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just browsing to see if there is any information on the "helium shortage" we were just notified of. I own a party store that has received notice that our helium will be cut to 50% of our normal ordering at least through November. I'm curious if this is throughout the industry or only through Exxon Mobile.

 
At 10:57 AM, September 11, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was just trying to find some information about why the pricing and availability of helium has changed so drastically recently. I am trying to put out a bid a contract for helium and other industrial gasses for my employer.

 
At 1:32 PM, September 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep, I'm in the Midwest and I was told Hospitals get 100%, Industrial gets 85% and balloon folks get 50%. Been 45 days and no end in site.

 
At 5:03 PM, September 26, 2006, Anonymous pbenjamins said...

We occasionally use helium for welding (I can cut my power usage by about 30% using Helium) and are considering using more and more of it. Now I can only manage to get one bottle at a time (I like to keep at least one bottle as backup in case I run out in the middle of a job). I guess I should not plan on using Helium long term, altough it may be the only way to weld thick (>1") aluminum.

 
At 12:47 PM, October 03, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I am also a Balloon Decorator and we have been warned by our supplier that the helium shortage we've heard about is becoming a reality. The price I pay has increased recently; I'm not sure how the shortage may impact our industry long-term. I've been in the business over 25 years, so maybe it's time to look into retirement. :)

 
At 9:47 AM, October 22, 2006, Anonymous Scary Shari said...

Hi from Shari in California. I don't know why you got a bunch of hits in August for "helium shortage", because I only found out about it two days ago (Oct. 20). I work in a party store and was told that all our inflated balloon prices had gone up, because our helium supplier was charging a lot more, due to a helium shortage. We were also told we could no longer give a free balloon to kids, until further notice.

I went on the internet and learned of two different things regarding helium supply. First is the current shortage, which is only TEMPORARY and is expected to run from October thru November or December. It's caused by helium plants in the U.S., Algeria and Quatar all going partly or fully off-line (temporarily) at the same time. A bad coincidence, basically. However, soon enough we'll be back to normal.

But even WORSE is what I learned about the world's helium supply in general. We might totally run out in 10 to 15 years!! :( Apparently these helium "mining" plants in the U.S. and elsewhere are the ONLY way to obtain the noble gas, aside from producing it via processes at nuclear power plants, or harvesting it from the moon or from space. (I didn't even realize helium came from underground, let alone where else one could find it! I also didn't know it was used in industries like welding, hospital imaging equipment, etc.)

Anyway, now you know why I, at least, came to your blog. :) I'm very curious about things that are new or unknown to me, so as soon as I learned there was a helium shortage, I started doing online research. And I sure learned a LOT!

Now that I took up all this time and space rambling in your blog, you're welcome to come visit mine. *blush* (I used to use Blogspot myself, but I abandoned it for LiveJournal. I like just about everything about LJ much better than Blogspot).

 
At 11:57 PM, October 28, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been oblivious to the impending helium shortage. But when I went to buy balloons today at the local party supply store, I was informed that they were rationing their limited supply of helium. They are down to their last two tanks and aren't sure when they will be getting more. They'll only fill up small balloons, no jumbo mylars. I thought they were kidding, so I wanted to get the scoop. Thanks!

 
At 7:47 PM, November 03, 2006, Blogger i46angel said...

I started surfing for helium shortage because our local parade had to pay $4000 more for the helium to blow up the parade balloons because of the helium shortage.

 
At 6:04 PM, November 06, 2006, Blogger jimmy said...

Well you can expect even more hits pretty soon I'll bet, if you haven't already noticed a surge. NPR just ran a piece this evening about the shortage. That's what got me googling, and that's what brought me here.

 
At 12:28 PM, November 15, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looking at the other posts on your site so far, my motivation behind looking for stories on "He shortage" is indeed different. I am a scientist managing a lab full of superconducting magnets that use liquified He gas and essentially the whole lab has to shut down if He becomes unavailable....crossing my fingers..

 
At 8:30 PM, November 16, 2006, Anonymous dano said...

We are the largest supplier of balloon grade helium in San Francisco. I too could not believe this shortage was for real,but the research is clear, we are running out of this product. As i am a large customer we have been able to keep a steady supply of helium, but i have heard that many stores are out of gas and therefore temporarily out of the balloon business.
Dan Cerf
sfparty

 
At 8:20 PM, November 22, 2006, Anonymous Gilbert said...

I just read some news which said that, thankfully, the helium shortage will not affect tomorrow's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. Being my typical clueless self, I was like, "Ummm... what helium shortage?"

 
At 3:57 PM, February 21, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Helium shortage -- yes, maybe in 10-25 years! But why not capitalize on that fact NOW.
Gas shortage - gas prices go up.
Orange shortage(due to the unusually cold snap) - price of oranges go up.
Illegal Alien shortage - increase in minimum wage (Just had to put that in there).
Helium shortage -- why not! Another way to raise the prices TODAY.
I'm sure some mad scientist will find a way to float our baloons before then.

 
At 11:43 AM, May 24, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Local Safeway store not doing balloons for kids anymore due to shortage. They don't know when they'll resume.

 
At 6:42 PM, August 19, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a Party store owner and what happened was our helium supplier said there is a shortage. Now we can't get enough helium to rent tanks for customer balloon filling. And we are only allotted 1/2 the amount of tanks we normally would get to fill our balloons. So you may see party stores with no helium to fill balloons for you.

 
At 1:37 PM, September 10, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I work at University where our instruments require liquid helium for cooling. I have heard of shortages before, but assumed it was a temporary thing..I had no idea we were running out for good. We have been waiting for liquid helium for over a month now and crossing our fingers more will come...research will suffer and what about medical instruments that use the same technology??...our NMR's are liq. helium (and nitrogen) cooled and are very similar to MRI's...
This is rather scary.

 
At 4:05 AM, September 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i work at a gift shop that sells ballons. we called the other day for a new supply of helium and they told us it may take weeks....this was the first time we heard of any such shortage and decided to research the subject. who knew something like helium was used for so many important things?

 
At 9:48 AM, October 02, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a balloon decorator and retailer since 1982. Never, ever thought the second most abundent element in the universe would become short. We had an issue about a year ago and was told it was due to down time for repairs at one of the plants, but it would be back to normal. Recently we have been charged more and told we may be limited because my supplier is. Checking for new information on this new problem, I found an article written back in 2001 in Energy Bulletin. They said it would run out and thought it to be in the next 10-15 years. I am planning alternatives now. The medical industry needs this more than we do. Add helium to being "Green".

 
At 10:07 AM, October 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I ran across the story a while back, then recently our supplier for high purity helium cut our supply back. This is used for GC/MS instruments as a carrier gas in environmental testing. I hope the EPA realizes this will have a tremendous impact on the tests that can be done. Switching carrier gases may not be possible for some testing.

 
At 1:33 PM, October 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I OWN TWO PARTY SUPPLY STORES AND WAS INFORMED TODAY THAT MY PRICE WILL BE INCREASING FOR THE THIRD TIME THIS YEAR. DOUBLING FROM THE PRICE I STARTED OUT WITH IN JAN 2007, FROM $9.50 PER 100 CU FEET TO $19.50 /1OOCU. THE SALES REP SAID IT'S NOT GOING TO STOP THERE...

 
At 5:36 PM, October 27, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I work for a appliance manufacturer and we use alot of helium to test for leaks in the cooling system. We have been limited to six bottles per day also. i just heard it and didn't believe it so i looked it up and found this.

 
At 11:54 AM, April 29, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Russians want to mine helium3 on the moon. Helium3 is nuclear fuel for
nuclear fusion plants. The Russians are not interested in common helium4.
Therefore the helium shortage will remain. Helium could be replaced by
Argon for many applications.

 
At 10:33 AM, June 29, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liquid Helium is core component in creating the superconductive magnets MRI machines. Helium so far, is only found in reserves underground. Thus in limited supply and will eventually run out. There is no other means of extracting helium except for these deposits.
Once it runs out that is it.

So would you rather fill balloons or save peoples lives?

 
At 5:20 AM, January 08, 2009, Anonymous Airborne Helium said...

This is so ridiculous! This is a supply and demand tactic from large medical gas companies to take advantage of their customers! No different then the fuel prices! There is plenty of helium to go around without raise prices and forcing small businesses to close their doors. Come on this is America! Stop purchasing helium from the large medical gas companies and you will see the prices go down. We are a family owned and operated business for over 25 years and we can beat their prices by $40.00 a cylinder! We currently service Missouri, Illinois, Florida and Nebraska. Call for pricing at 1-800-347-4614 or visit our website at www.airbornehelium.net.

 
At 3:33 PM, March 02, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We use He at a synchrotron facility(x-ray machines) we have been warned long time ago about the shortage and the price increase.
I just googled it to see who else is affected. In our applications there are ways to recover it and we are looking into it.

 
At 7:24 PM, April 08, 2009, Blogger selina said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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