Jump to content
House Price Crash Forum
Sign in to follow this  
interestrateripoff

The Looming Federal 'helium' Reserve Cliff (No, Really!)

Recommended Posts

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-08-27/looming-federal-helium-reserve-cliff-no-really

..

But it’s the short side of the story – a potential global helium shortage – which has re-piqued my interest this week. The story goes that the US has been stockpiling helium in ‘The Federal Helium Reserve’ (no, really) – an underground reservoir near Amarillo – since it was built in 1929. There is also a processing plant and 450 miles of pipelines. The US produces about 75% of the world’s helium, with half of that stored in the aforementioned reserve.

The problem is that the Congress passed ‘The Helium Privatization Act’ in 1996, which stated that the government would effectively end sales from the reservoir once its debt was paid off. And this is expected to happen in, um, early October.

You wouldn’t think this would be a problem given that helium is the second most abundant element in the universe. But it is. There is a global shortage already. Although helium is abundant, it is not economically feasible to capture and extract it from the atmosphere. Hence the only helium captured is what is extracted as a by-product of natural gas.

The need for helium is also much more wide-ranging than just for balloons. It plays a vital role in the production or operation of everything from MRI machines to fiber-optic cables to flat-screen TVs.

Congress returns to Washington next month, and if it doesn’t renege on the Act of 1996 and continuing to fund ‘The Federal Helium Reserve’, the ‘helium cliff’, is coming in October.

Is this report accurate? Or will this facility just continue as normal and no shortage what so ever?

Is someone going to open a valve and release all this helium?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Chinese government has for a long time threatened to restrict the export of rare earth metals as a weapon in any future trade/economic war with the west. Presumably the US is making clear behind the scenes that if push comes to shove, they can do the same thing with helium.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-08-27/looming-federal-helium-reserve-cliff-no-really

Is this report accurate? Or will this facility just continue as normal and no shortage what so ever?

Is someone going to open a valve and release all this helium?

This 2013 "cliff" has been known about for years in the technical diving community. I "blew" 4000 litres of the stuff every second weekend in the late 90s, early noughties for very little cost. I suspect the public will only be able to afford deep diving if they are a banker or have a rebreather.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There are more serious problems, NMR scanners rely on helium to work.

Thi shortage has been known about in the physics community for some years, liquid helium is now very expensive and effectively rationed by BOC.

Even more interesting is the Helium 3 problem. This isotope is a by product of nuclear weapons production and is used in fusion energy research amongst other things. Since the Cold War none is produced and its cost is of the order of 1000s dollars a litre. A certain uk university does research in liquid helium 3 and bought most of the worlds supply in the 50s and 60s when the uk was one of the few places the us would sell the stuff to, it is now sitting on a massive resource worth perhaps 100Ms dollars should fusions energy become a reality.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This 2013 "cliff" has been known about for years in the technical diving community. I "blew" 4000 litres of the stuff every second weekend in the late 90s, early noughties for very little cost. I suspect the public will only be able to afford deep diving if they are a banker or have a rebreather.

Is this you?

Up-movie-disney-08.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There are more serious problems, NMR scanners rely on helium to work.

Thi shortage has been known about in the physics community for some years, liquid helium is now very expensive and effectively rationed by BOC.

Even more interesting is the Helium 3 problem. This isotope is a by product of nuclear weapons production and is used in fusion energy research amongst other things. Since the Cold War none is produced and its cost is of the order of 1000s dollars a litre. A certain uk university does research in liquid helium 3 and bought most of the worlds supply in the 50s and 60s when the uk was one of the few places the us would sell the stuff to, it is now sitting on a massive resource worth perhaps 100Ms dollars should fusions energy become a reality.

The starship Enterprise will convert its deflector into a giant helium collector. They do it all the time when they aren't venting plasma.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There are more serious problems, NMR scanners rely on helium to work.

For uses that are not isotope-based and not lighter-than-air based, wouldn't any inert gas do?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-08-27/looming-federal-helium-reserve-cliff-no-really

Is this report accurate? Or will this facility just continue as normal and no shortage what so ever?

Is someone going to open a valve and release all this helium?

My understanding is that Qatar are upping production to meet demand. They have only just opened a second helium plant fairly recently.

Linky

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

For uses that are not isotope-based and not lighter-than-air based, wouldn't any inert gas do?

Yes, and they are already used for welding, etc. For NMR/MRI which are the big consumers, their superconducting magnets require cooling to - 269 Celsius. Liquid helium is the only possible coolant.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In my days, there were only two sources of Helium - the US and Poland (where most of ours used to come from). Maybe others can be exploited but it is indeed rare stuff and when it's gone, it's gone. Personally, I tremble at the thought of a world without foil balloons and idiots with squeaky voices.

As for the MRI issue, no, any inert gas will not do the same job. Although some of them are more abundant than helium (e.g. argon, which you get out of the air in small quantities at the same time as making liquid oxygen & nitrogen) the use in MRI is primarily about cooling the magnets and helium is liquid at the right sort of temperature. You can also get neon from air but its boiling point is higher than helium and even if it were usable there's so little to extract that costs would be prohibitive.

If push comes to shove, it might prompt the development of higher temperature superconductors, but physicists have been on with that for years and progress isn't great.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I used to be responsible for a supercon.

It was a thirsty beast. Drank He and N2, lots more N2 because one of the internal dewars was a bit iffy.

These days magnets use much less He than before because they are pumped. Big users of the gas collect it and reliquify via dilution fridges, so the usage of the stuff is going down.

In addition brute force cooling magents are coming to market that require no cryogens. These are in their infancy, but if He becomes a problem then they could become more prevalent.

People I know running hi res systems tell me that He is becoming more difficult to get and that at certain times it is reserved for hospitals etc, which is not great if you need the stuff.

Bottom line is that shortage of He is becoming an increasing issue, but is in no way insurmountable. Bit like the oil problem really. As the supply/cost changes the technology will move to match it, both in terms of production and usage.

Add it to the list of stuff that the doomsayers will say will run out and therefore plunge the world into chaos. Indium. rare earths, oil. helium. Funnily enough though it never seems to happen.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I used to be responsible for a supercon.

It was a thirsty beast. Drank He and N2, lots more N2 because one of the internal dewars was a bit iffy.

These days magnets use much less He than before because they are pumped. Big users of the gas collect it and reliquify via dilution fridges, so the usage of the stuff is going down.

In addition brute force cooling magents are coming to market that require no cryogens. These are in their infancy, but if He becomes a problem then they could become more prevalent.

People I know running hi res systems tell me that He is becoming more difficult to get and that at certain times it is reserved for hospitals etc, which is not great if you need the stuff.

Bottom line is that shortage of He is becoming an increasing issue, but is in no way insurmountable. Bit like the oil problem really. As the supply/cost changes the technology will move to match it, both in terms of production and usage.

Add it to the list of stuff that the doomsayers will say will run out and therefore plunge the world into chaos. Indium. rare earths, oil. helium. Funnily enough though it never seems to happen.

Nobody ever said the world was going to run out of oil or rare earths or clean water, it's just the pollyannas who believe these things will remain affordable.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Nobody ever said the world was going to run out of oil or rare earths or clean water, it's just the pollyannas who believe these things will remain affordable.

I think what is frustrating to see is the simplistic viewpoint that we estimate that there is X tonnes of stuff left in the ground, we use X tonnes of stuff per year therefore in X years we will run out and it will cause chaos.

It doesn't happen like that, because technology in order to produce a resource and the technology that uses a resource are constantly on the move. We live in a time with a strong technology gradient.

These comments normally arise when the price of something spikes, and are used to justify the reason behind price spikes, but in my experience the spikes are not a result of fundamental shortages or ability to produce a resource but more down to human factors such as speculation, hoarding, restriction of exports, wars etc.

The claims are ramped by people who have a VI in the marketplace to try to boost the price for profit. Look at the price of neo (a rare earth) over the past 5 years. The variation in price is nothing to do with the amount of neo in the ground and our ability to extract it, and everything to do with the fact that the only people who can be bothered to produce it are squeezing the market for various reasons.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Bottom line is that shortage of He is becoming an increasing issue, but is in no way insurmountable. Bit like the oil problem really. As the supply/cost changes the technology will move to match it, both in terms of production and usage.

Isn't part of the problem with helium that the US government has been selling their stockpile at far below market prices, so we've been pumping it into balloons rather than keeping it for the high-value uses that don't have any sensible alternative?

Ultimately, helium is the second most common element in the universe, but that doesn't mean it's easy to find on Earth.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Isn't part of the problem with helium that the US government has been selling their stockpile at far below market prices, so we've been pumping it into balloons rather than keeping it for the high-value uses that don't have any sensible alternative?

Ultimately, helium is the second most common element in the universe, but that doesn't mean it's easy to find on Earth.

Helium isn't that common on earth. The reason being it just floats up and away. The US I believe have indeed been running down their stockpile and sure this modifies pricing, again, the human factors rather than physical constraints.

Helium comes from helium mines. I think it is produced as a by product of natural gas. It's origin is from alpha particles (helium nucleus) which arises from radioactive decay.

Only the gas that gets trapped beneath the earth and can't escape stays here.

I think there is probably plenty of helium around, should people choose to make the effort to extract it. It seems like a new plant is being built in Qatar.

Interestingly shale appears to have no helium, I thought it would have quite a lot, or at least some. This is kind of interesting to me and has some consequences.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A few weeks back the threat seemed to be that the US was going to sell off all it's He reserves and that it would be lost and wasted. That it will now be conserved and rationed is, I think, a good thing.

The US pioneered He production and kept it to itself for militarty purposes. Helium balloons are long out of fashion, which is why no other country seems to make any effort to produce He.

However, as it is a by-product of natural gas production, I presume there are plenty of non-US sources if an effort is made to extract it.

Odd to think that the second most abundant element in the universe is so scarce on earth, but the inert atoms do not form molecules, and are consequently so light that those in the atmosphere can attain escape velocity and escape into space.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The starship Enterprise will convert its deflector into a giant helium collector. They do it all the time when they aren't venting plasma.

:lol::lol::lol: Good work, Ensign Tulip.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I used to be responsible for a supercon.

It was a thirsty beast. Drank He and N2, lots more N2 because one of the internal dewars was a bit iffy.

These days magnets use much less He than before because they are pumped. Big users of the gas collect it and reliquify via dilution fridges, so the usage of the stuff is going down.

In addition brute force cooling magents are coming to market that require no cryogens. These are in their infancy, but if He becomes a problem then they could become more prevalent.

People I know running hi res systems tell me that He is becoming more difficult to get and that at certain times it is reserved for hospitals etc, which is not great if you need the stuff.

Bottom line is that shortage of He is becoming an increasing issue, but is in no way insurmountable. Bit like the oil problem really. As the supply/cost changes the technology will move to match it, both in terms of production and usage.

Add it to the list of stuff that the doomsayers will say will run out and therefore plunge the world into chaos. Indium. rare earths, oil. helium. Funnily enough though it never seems to happen.

I would have thought seriously that where liquid Helium is used for cooling your system just has to re liquify the Helium that has evaporated. My well be lots more expensive than buying in already liquified Helium from outside but is there any reason that it can't be done?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would have thought seriously that where liquid Helium is used for cooling your system just has to re liquify the Helium that has evaporated. My well be lots more expensive than buying in already liquified Helium from outside but is there any reason that it can't be done?

Helium liquifiers are expensive and power hungry beasts, then you have to have a lot of infrastructure, pipe work, scrubbers, liquid nitrogen tanks, gas ballast to collect boil off before reliquification. Many research facilities might only use 100 litres of liquid helium every few weeks, at the moment it is not worth the effort for them to buy a liquifier.

if on the other hand you are CERN then it most certainly is worth the effort.

I used to use a superconducting magnet, the most exciting part was when it "quenched" basically a process whereby the magnet loses its superconductivity (usually because some idiot cranked it up to much) at this point all the energy in solenoid (can be 100's kilojoules) is converted to heat and your tank of helium decides it would rather be gas than liquid. The result is something like have a steam train inside with lab with the folk inside developing seriously squeaky voices as they suggest leaving the building.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would have thought seriously that where liquid Helium is used for cooling your system just has to re liquify the Helium that has evaporated. My well be lots more expensive than buying in already liquified Helium from outside but is there any reason that it can't be done?

Debtlessmanc got it spot on.

The other thing I would say is that dilution fridges used to be pretty unreliable and always breaking down. I don't know whether this is still the case.

That said, you don't need much of a research facility these days to warrant having one. More places have them now, especially in the US where a large university might have 10 or more supercons clustered closely together for various purposes.

In some ways the lower initial cost move is to go for zero boil off magnets. These have cryocoolers that cool down the magnets to ensure there is minimal or little boil off. But the pumps have to run all the time and they use a lot of power and because they are mechanical they need servicing (I don't know whether the power and servicing is cheaper than the boil off) and occasionally of course the power to the pump fails. Zero boil off magnets also have some other issues, for example rattling pumps can upset the results of some sensitive experiments that are performed on the system.

A quench of a big old magnet is worth seeing (and hearing) ! Back in the bad old days people were not so particular, but after a couple of accidents the infrastructure required now is much improved. Magnets won't usually be installed without oxygen monitors and quench ducting is used to vent the helium to somewhere well away from where you are, which is a good thing.

Anyway, the deal is that if helium runs out it will be inconvenient, but not insurmountable. Their are ways and means of minimising its consumption.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Debtlessmanc got it spot on.

The other thing I would say is that dilution fridges used to be pretty unreliable and always breaking down. I don't know whether this is still the case.

That said, you don't need much of a research facility these days to warrant having one. More places have them now, especially in the US where a large university might have 10 or more supercons clustered closely together for various purposes.

In some ways the lower initial cost move is to go for zero boil off magnets. These have cryocoolers that cool down the magnets to ensure there is minimal or little boil off. But the pumps have to run all the time and they use a lot of power and because they are mechanical they need servicing (I don't know whether the power and servicing is cheaper than the boil off) and occasionally of course the power to the pump fails. Zero boil off magnets also have some other issues, for example rattling pumps can upset the results of some sensitive experiments that are performed on the system.

A quench of a big old magnet is worth seeing (and hearing) ! Back in the bad old days people were not so particular, but after a couple of accidents the infrastructure required now is much improved. Magnets won't usually be installed without oxygen monitors and quench ducting is used to vent the helium to somewhere well away from where you are, which is a good thing.

Anyway, the deal is that if helium runs out it will be inconvenient, but not insurmountable. Their are ways and means of minimising its consumption.

Ahh seeing the oxygen condense, then wondering if it'll blow and take out the room (and possibly surrounding rooms if you don't have thick walls)..... fun times.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

  • The Prime Minister stated that there were three Brexit options available to the UK:   218 members have voted

    1. 1. Which of the Prime Minister's options would you choose?


      • Leave with the negotiated deal
      • Remain
      • Leave with no deal

    Please sign in or register to vote in this poll. View topic


×

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.