The Earth is running out of helium

Would it make my voice squeaky?

Even more so. But there’s a risk of explosion if you’d fool around while smoking. It’s not THAT bad, as it is used in some deep-diving breathing mix instead of helium.


Oh, the humanity!


Isaac Asimov was writing about the depletion of helium all the way back in 1977 in “The Vanishing Element,” his essay for American Airlines’ on-board magazine The American Way. It keeps coming up as a subject every few years, and sometimes Congress even does something. Seems it’s never enough.

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Depends on how hot the fire is.

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Just steal the helium from little kids’ balloons - duh!

It would. Demo here:

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But the real reason is I don’t know where to get some.

Hmm, that’s a bit of an issue. Big bottles are expensive (but bottles of any gas are expensive), lecture bottles are stratospheric-overpriced. But hydrogen is way easier than helium to make; in small scale, a drain cleaner with aluminium foil will do the job. Military, for filling of artillery observation balloons, uses ferrosilicon with sodium hydroxide; that may be an expedient way for higher volumes. Or an electrolyzer; there are many plans online for production of HHO, which is hydrogen-oxygen mixture, which is lighter than air (but stoichiometric and very explosive, more so than hydrogen on its own, and not so light as hydrogen alone). A high-power electrolyzer producing separate oxygen and hydrogen should be doable by modding the design with suitable membranes.

For one balloon or two I’d go the Drano+foil way. For more, for one time job, I’d go with ferrosilicon or similar material. For more regular use, I’d build the electrolyzer or buy an off-the-shelf unit from some alternative energy vendor, there are quite many that sell hydrogen generators.


Thanks, I was wondering about that.

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It’s not quite that simple. The US National Helium Reserve is the source of 30% of the helium sold worldwide right now, so if/when it shuts down there will at the least be a significant effect on market prices. Meanwhile, industrial demand for helium has skyrocketed in the last few decades, and helium extraction mainly comes from natural gas–which, as I’m sure we’re all aware by now, is nonrenewable.

It’s like oil. No one’s saying that we’re going to turn the helium tap tomorrow and find that the global tank is empty; rather, it’s going to get steadily more expensive as the remaining supplies become harder and harder to access, and (in the long run, if nothing changes) we’ll reach a point where extraction stops because nobody can afford to pay for it anymore. There will be blips in the graph when someone opens a major new natural gas field and supplies jump, but the price will continue to trend upward unless we find a major new source.

I think it’s because of this:

Even though helium airships have also burned down, this infamous incident seared hydrogen as the culprit into the collective conscious.

Of course, the reason they used hydrogen on the Hindenberg in the first place is because back then Texas oilfields were the only major source of helium.


The Republican Congress decided selling off the reserve would be nice symbolism because the reserve originated as a way to keep American military airships flying, and so they get to kill a program that has outlived it’s original purpose. Netting some cash to offset the deficit didn’t hurt either. The problem is that this was a myopic view that ignores how helium is important for lots more than just party balloons and the Goodyear blimp.


Politico has no clue about a resource. News at 11… :stuck_out_tongue:

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I was wondering if there is enough helium density in the solar wind that we could just make some sort of (relatively) low speed orbital Bussard collector and skim it off that.

Imagine it’s a pretty impractical project though.

Finally get to say something other than “Simpsons did it!”:



If you mean the website, to my knowledge they aren’t particularly responsible. If you mean “politico” generically, you’re absolutely right. Putting the word at the start of the sentence makes it a bit ambiguous :smile:.

Also, I retract my Republican comment, as looking back the desire to kill the reserve has been bipartisan. The commentary here is pretty representative of the calls I’ve seen to kill the reserve:

A program that doesn’t now, and probably never, accomplished its initial goal? Check. An expenditure that should have been deemed unnecessary circa 1930 but has nonetheless stuck around beyond the lifespan of most of the Greatest Generation? Check. A function that never had any business being under the purview of the federal government instead of the private sector? Check. A program that has risen, zombie-style from its grave every time someone tries to kill it? Check. A service that crowded out private sector replacements with below-market rates subsidized by taxpayers and then justified its continued existence by complaining the private sector had not jumped to replace it at a loss? Check.

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