Helium nucleus.  Electrons sold separately.  And yes, protons are red.
This page is about helium, which is an important but scarce commodity, of which there is a finite supply.  The Sun has lots of helium; in fact the mass of the helium in the Sun is about 100,000 times the mass of the Earth, but recovery of that helium would be quite problematic.  Helium is completely inert, and in its very cold liquid state, it is used to cool superconducting magnets.  As the supply is quite limited, and the United States is the primary supplier, helium, in my opinion, is too valuable to be wasted on party balloons, although such balloons seem to defy gravity, and are therefore useful for teaching little kids about elementary science.

Weather balloons also use helium.  (They should be using hydrogen gas, in my opinion, because hydrogen provides about twice as much lift per cubic foot, and can be extracted from water if need be.  Unfortunately hydrogen developed a bad reputation in 1937, but for the purposes of a weather balloon, hydrogen should be well suited, if the stigma can be overcome.)

I started gathering material for this page about 20 years ago, but had not put it online until now because I perceived that hardly anybody cares about this topic.  But with the recent discovery of a helium motherlode in Minnesota, it's time to set up another page.


Chemistry in its element: helium.  In many facilities where helium is used, it is captured and reused.  If it isn't, it escapes into the air.  But it doesn't simply accumulate in the atmosphere.  Helium is so light that it can escape the pull of the earth's gravitational field and leave our planet forever.  This is the fate of the helium in our balloons.  Whereas it may be possible to reclaim and recycle other elements that we have used and discarded, when we waste helium, it is lost for good.  In 100 years time, people will look back with disbelief that we wasted this precious, unique element by filling up party balloons.

Timely news and commentary:

Helium discovered in Minnesota as US supplies dwindle.  A potential helium reservoir was discovered in Minnesota last week after drillers bored deep beneath the forest floor of the state's Iron Range as supplies of the noble gas dwindle in the U.S.  Pulsar Helium Inc., a Canadian-based company, announced in a news release on Thursday [2/29/2024] that its team encountered gases with concentrations of up to 12.4% helium when its drilling rig reached a total depth of 2,200 at the Topaz Project drill site.  Helium concentrations above 0.3% are considered economically viable.  Thomas Abraham-James, Pulsar's president and CEO, said he is "delighted" about the "outstanding result."  "It is a big day for helium exploration, confirming the original discovery in the new jurisdiction of Minnesota.  I look forward to keeping the market updated with further results as they are received," Abraham-James said.

The Biden administration is destroying our national security infrastructure.  America has been facing a helium crisis that goes far beyond balloons and threatens our medical care and military readiness.  Thankfully, a new helium reservoir has just been discovered, but the ongoing helium shortage won't instantly go away and, combined with the Biden administration's many anti-military policies, still leaves us vulnerable to a military strike by a foreign actor.  On Friday, news broke about the helium reservoir, along with the fact that (a) our national security depends on helium, (b) we're dangerously low on that essential gas, and (c) a current reserve sell-out will reduce helium capacity going forward: [...]

Huge News Out of Minnesota:  Exploratory Drill Has Discovered What Is Likely the Biggest Find in North America to Date.  A new find of underground helium in Minnesota could turn out to be one of the largest in the world, Minneapolis's WCCO-TV reported Thursday.  The drill site, just outside Babbitt in the northeastern part of the state, took about a month from initially breaking ground to get to a depth of 2,200 feet.  What it found there, Pulsar Helium CEO Thomas Abraham-James called "a dream."  "There was a lot of screaming, a lot of hugging and high fives.  It's nice to know the efforts all worked out and we pulled it off," Abraham-James told WCCO.  He said that the concentration of helium sampled was 12.4 percent — about 30 times what the outlet referred to as "the industry standard," and higher even than the company had forecast.

Party City is facing a helium shortage.  It's also closing 45 stores.  Helium is the second-most abundant element in the galaxy, yet Party City is struggling to find enough of the gas to fill balloons.  Balloons are big business for Party City.  The company's mylar balloon sales fell 8% last quarter, dragging overall sales down 1.4% at Party City stores open at least a year.  Sales would have risen if not for the balloon problems, the company said Thursday [5/9/2019].

The Future of Helium Is Up in the Air.  Sorry to burst your balloon, but the world is currently experiencing its third major helium shortage in the last 14 years, putting more than just party decorations at risk.  Heather Murphy at The New York Times reports that the shortage recently made headlines when Party City, the chain store perhaps best known for being the place to get bunches of helium balloons, announced the closure of 45 of its 870 stores.  Many people, noting that recently some of the stores have been out or short of helium, blamed the low supply of the gas.  Corporate headquarters, however, say the closures have nothing to do with helium shortages.  Nevertheless, the story brought to light the fact that helium is currently being rationed.

Qatar: Helium Plants Close Because Of Gulf Boycott.  Qatar, the world's second largest helium producer, has closed its two helium production plants because of the economic boycott imposed on it by other Arab states, industry sources told Reuters on June 13.  The helium plants operated by RasGas, a subsidiary of state-owned Qatar Petroleum, were shut because Saudi Arabia closed its border with Qatar, blocking overland exports of the gas.  The two plants have a combined annual production capacity of approximately 2 billion standard cubic feet of liquid helium and can meet about 25 percent of total world demand for the gas, according to RasGas' website.

Earth may hold more helium than we thought.  Don't mourn the loss of your humorously high-pitched voices quite yet.  Despite years of warnings from scientists that Earth's supply of helium is quickly running out, the results of a study announced Wednesday [8/19/2015] in Prague show there could still be large deposits of the element hidden underground, the Guardian reports.  Helium, as important to the nuclear industry as the birthday party industry, is essential to everything from MRIs to the Large Hadron Collider, according to Phys.org.  But as PhD student Diveena Danabalan explains, "Helium is the second lightest element in nature, it is so light that it leaks away into space."  That makes it a finite resource, and most of the helium we've used so far has come as a byproduct of natural gas extraction. This is an original compilation, Copyright © 2024 by Andrew K. Dart

California bill would ban helium-filled metallic balloons.  California would become the first state to ban helium-filled metallic balloons under a bill unanimously advanced Tuesday by a legislative committee.  Sen. Jack Scott, D-Altadena, said the party balloons frequently break free and float into power lines, where they can cause electric wires to arc.  He said they cause millions of dollars in losses for utility companies and businesses that lose electricity.

Helium is disappearing right before our eyes.  It's a problem that's been ballooning — and it could spell the end of a birthday party staple.  There's been an on-going, worldwide shortage of helium, the gas commonly used to inflate balloons and make them lighter than air.  As a result, wholesale prices have skyrocketed, causing industry experts to fear the worst.

Federal Helium System at Cliffside.  The Federal Helium System currently supplies over 20% of the domestic and 9% of the global demand for helium by supplying crude helium to private helium refining companies, which in turn refine the helium and market it to consumers.  Helium is a colorless and odorless inert gas that will not burn or react with other elements.  Helium is a non-renewable natural resource that is most commonly recovered from natural gas deposits.  Perhaps the most familiar use of helium is the filling of party and parade balloons because it is a safe and non-flammable gas.  In addition, helium is a critical component in many fields, including scientific research, medical technology, high-tech manufacturing (i.e. computer chips), space exploration, and national defense.  Helium is used in MRI machines, specialized welding equipment, leak detection, fiber optics/semiconductor manufacturing, low-temperature research, missiles, and observation balloons.

The looming helium crisis.  Despite the fact that it's the second-most abundant element in the universe, some reports indicate that we've only got about 20 years worth of this interesting gas left on the planet. [...] Helium wasn't even discovered until a little over 100 years ago and is now a crucial component of much research and many manufacturing processes.

Challenges to the Worldwide Supply of Helium in the Next Decade.  (Written in 2004.)  Because the world's helium supply is finite and irreplaceable, three options exist to increase its global availability — find new sources where extraction is economically feasible, develop more effective methods to recover and recycle helium and conserve it.

Helium:  Johnston Amendment Would Protect Our National Reserve.  The Helium Privatization Act of 1996 (H.R. 3008), which floated through the House by 411-10 (WN 3 May 96), will be marked up by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee next Wednesday.  While no one seems seriously opposed to the government getting out of the helium business, H.R. 3008 also calls for selling off the nation's helium reserve.

Amarillo Texas.  In 1928 the discovery of the Cliffside gas field, with its high helium content, led to the establishment of the United States Helium Plant by the Federal Bureau of Mines four miles west of town.

As supply shrinks, price of helium soars.  Texas is home to the country's only Federal Helium Reserve, a site outside Amarillo where more than one-third of the world's helium supply is produced, and the federal government has worked for years to deplete that supply.  Congress more than 15 years ago created a law requiring reserve officials to sell off their helium — therefore privatizing the helium industry — by 2015.

Document location http://akdart.com/he.html
Updated March 9, 2024.

©2024 by Andrew K. Dart