HomeNews & LifestyleThe Truth: Will The Earth Run Out Of Helium One Day?

The Truth: Will The Earth Run Out Of Helium One Day?

Why is Helium So Important To Us?

Most of us only know about helium as it relates to making balloons float. There are, however, a lot of other uses for helium that are really important to us. This fact begets the question that I never knew needed to be asked: Will we run out of helium? And why exactly does that matter?

How Is Helium Harvested?

run out of helium
Image: @dream_higher_events_ on Instagram

Helium isn’t found just lying around for us to put it into a canister and blow it into balloons.

The helium we get today is harvested by tapping into underground pockets of gas inside the Earth. It gets trapped there, then extracted, and from there separated from other gases and purified for its multitude of uses.

If you’re wondering how it becomes trapped in the Earth in the first place, you’re not the only one. I wondered the same thing.

Helium starts out as a different, heavier element. However, exposure to radioactive elements (for example uranium or thorium) can result in the decay of other elements nearby. Essentially, due to exposure to radioactive elements buried under the ground, helium naturally continues to occur.

Is There Really A Chance We Will Run Out Of Helium?

run out of helium
Image: @darshcreation_eventplanner on Instagram

As you probably know, we consume helium quite freely. Birthday parties and Instagram photo shoots and weddings and so many other celebrations marked by floating balloons.

In addition to the party element, there are the other industries which actually use even more helium. It’s used in arc welding, as a coolant in MRI scanners, and even in diving.

However, the question remains: Is there a chance we may run out fo helium?

The answer is… maybe. See, the problem is that the price of helium doesn’t reflect it’s actual value. Most of the world’s supply of helium is in the United States National Helium Reserve. They hold over one billion cubic meters of helium gas. Governing agencies told this entity to sell off all of its reserves of helium by 2015… regardless of how much they could charge for it.

The intention was to help the government get an ROI on the cost of building up the reserve. However, even though the use of helium has skyrocketed, the law has remained the same. because of this, by 2014, much of our planet’s stockpile of helium was sold at a ridiculously low price.

The good news, however, is that there’s more helium in other areas of the Earth (such as groundwater) than scientists previously thought. So while we are running down the helium stockpile, it looks like we will not be running out of helium anytime soon.

How Much Helium Is Left?

run out of helium
Image: @_.creationsbyt on Instagram

We are depleting our helium reserves, for the simple reason that it’s so easy to obtain that we don’t need a stockpile. The key distinction is that we are emptying our helium reserves. However, because we obtain helium from natural gas, and we’re pumping out more of that than ever before, we are producing more and more helium.

The upswing in the usage of natural gas means that we will likely continue to have it readily available, without needing to draw on the stockpile.

The Situation Is Not As Bad As We Once Thought

run out of helium
Image: @Image: @balloonilicious on Instagram

Fortunately, selling off our helium reserves likely won’t cause a helium shortage. Because we get helium from natural gas, the production of the second lightest element on the periodic table isn’t really at risk.

Why We (Probably) Won’t Completely “Run Out” Of Helium 

run out of helium
Image: @balloonilicious on Instagram

Another key factor in this situation is that we’re improving methods for recycling and recapturing used helium. Rather than just letting it dissipate in the atmosphere and disappear forever, there are now methods for preserving the gas.

Further, with scientists creating new helium extraction methods all the time, they’re opening new extraction facilities all around the world.

So, fear not. While the situation isn’t as dire as we once thought, it is still a concern. However, there should still be plenty of helium around in the future to continue to cool quantum computers, detect leaks in pressurized vessels, and chill out our MRI machines.

And yes, you’ll still be able to fill up your party balloons. Just please inquire into how you can safely and responsibly return the balloons so you can help preserve the helium!

 

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