[[ Check out my Wordpress blog Context/Earth for environmental and energy topics tied together in a semantic web framework ]]

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Sniffing for Peak Helium

I have been subscribed to the American Physical Society's FYI mailing list newsletter for probably over 10 years now. I faintly recall picking up info on potential helium depletion warnings from the FYI long ago.
Dr. Bob Park, 1995
At its 19 Nov 1995 meeting, the elected Council of the American Physical Society adopted a strongly worded statement calling for measures to "conserve and enhance the nation's helium reserves." The action was prompted by pending legislation that would require the nation's helium reserves to be sold off by 2015. In the rush to downsize government, the helium program has become a metaphor for "boondoggle" among politicians who associate it with blimps and party balloons. There is scant awareness of helium's growing cryogenic uses -- or its rapid depletion. It's a constituent of natural gas from a few "helium-rich" fields in the US. Less than half of the helium is needed to meet current demand; the rest is wasted. These fields are expected to be depleted in 20 years -- or about when the selloff of the federal reserve is completed.
Dr. Bob Park, 1998
The Helium Privatization Act of 1996 calls for the government to get out of the helium business (good idea) and sell off the reserve (really bad idea). However, an amendment added to the bill at the urging of the APS says the National Academy of Sciences must first study what the consequences would be. A panel headed by physicist John Reppy of Cornell is doing that right now. This week, they heard from researchers and the message was clear: Don't even think of selling the reserve -- enlarge it! Otherwise, helium depletion will remain completely independent of whether it's carefully husbanded or recklessly squandered -- it's extracted from natural gas, and the gas gets burned whether the helium is extracted or not. One researcher described helium as a "gift," without which modern science and technology would not have been possible. Does this generation have a right to waste it?

Implicit in this is the tie-in between natural gas reserves and helium reserves. Helium depletion issues act as a microcosm for the larger energy depletion issues.
Tracking the state of helium allows us to understand or at least filter the noise in different political terms. Face it, apart from party balloons and scuba divers, ordinary citizens don't come into contact with helium too often. Science remains the province of helium use. As an example, for NMR operators helium is their single biggest expense. As part of my past duties, I used to order helium to recharge cryopumps periodically, and wouldn't doubt the expense in other scientific applications.
"If you want technology to work miracles for you, you should at least listen to the tech people when they say something's important.".

The U.S.A. was once the leader for helium "production",
Rusia to Pump Helium
MOSCOW (Bloomberg) -- Rusia Petroleum, which is controlled by TNK-BP, plans to extract helium gas in eastern Siberia, Prime-Tass reported Tuesday, citing Rusia's general director Valery Pak.
Rusia plans to set up a venture with NPO Geliimash and Sayanskkhimplast to pump helium at the Kovykta gas field, developed by Rusia, Prime-Tass said. The partners will invest $40 million to extract seven billion cubic meters of helium gas per year.
Rusia, in which TNK-BP holds a 62.42 percent stake, is developing the field near the town of Irkutsk, which holds as much as 2 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, enough to supply Asia with gas for 10 years.
Kovykta holds a quarter of the world's helium reserves, the news service said.
The gas is used in manufacturing of high- technology equipment and is considered a strategic resource under Russian law. The partners plan to sell helium domestically and for exports.

The helium depletion debate has periodically resurfaced in the media over the years. The earlier reference was in regards to selling off the United States reserves in a few years. In 2001, Wired reported again, and got certain futurists excited by the potential for vast helium reserves on the moon, and even Uranus (no Homer jokes this time).

More recently, the Houston Geological Society featured a talk on challenges for 21st century helium extraction. Interestingly enough, the challenges look much the same as for oil. Look at this graph and notice how we have started to recently dip into the helium reserves (shades of the Kerry and Bush debating on using our oil reserves)

Apparently, recycling helium hasn't resulted in long term savings. As natural gas refiners collect helium only on demand, if we recycled more, they collected less.
Helium prices from one of the suppliers, BOC Gases, have increased 15%, 15-20%, and 10-15% in the years 2001, 2002, and 2003.

All you have to know about helium is that it is a slippery creature. The reason balloons filled up with helium don't last as long as air-filled balloons is that the small size of the He2 molecule allows it to escape through the tiniest openings (including the balloon material itself). It is actually so slippery that I as well as a host of other scientists know the trick of using helium in very small quantities along with a mass spectrometer to detect leaks in vacuum systems (aka helium sniffing).

Clearly, in a global context, any helium extracted along with natural gas that goes unused, escapes straight up and out of the atmosphere into the vacuum of outer space, never to be seen again, just like a child accidentally letting go of his balloon.


Professor Blogger Derek said...

Helium used to be used extensively in welding. TIG was originally all Helium (though they switched to Argon since its cheaper). Its still used in all the tri-gas mixes for MIG & TIG.

1:28 AM  
Professor Anonymous Anonymous said...

I work in an academic NMR lab and this issue isnt even on the radar. Everyone seems to think when asked that it will all be ok. I can see our academic speciality coming a very distant third after medical and manufacturing needs when the prices start spiraling up. Bingo...multi million dollar spectrometers become unusable and research stops.

7:35 PM  
Professor Blogger ghkj said...

If I were gold für wow a boy again,world of warcraft gold I would practice perseverance wow gold cheap more often,maple meso and never give up a thing because it was or inconvenient. If we want light,Maple Story Account we must conquer darkness. Perseverance can sometimes equal genius in its results.wow gold kaufen “There are only two creatures,”cheap maplestory mesos syas a proverb, “who can surmount the pyramids—the eagle and the snail.” If I were a boy again,wow geld I would school myself into a habit of attention;maple mesos I would let nothing come between me and the subject in hand.maple story power leveling I would remember that a good skater never tries to skate in two directions at once.billig wow gold The habit of attention becomes part of our life, if we begain early enough. I often hear grown up people say maple story items“ I could not fix my attention on the sermon or book, although I wished to do so” , wow powerlevelingand the reason is, the habit was not formed in youth. If I were to live my life over again,wow leveling I would pay more attention to the cultivation of the memory. I would strengthen that faculty by every possible means,wow power leveling and on every possible occasion.maplestory powerleveling It takes a little hard work at first to remember things accurately;cheap archlord gold but memory soon helps itself, and gives very little trouble. It only needs early cultivation to become a power.

7:42 PM  
Professor Anonymous Anonymous said...

Buy Rom Gold is the chance. I always have a bad dream when my account was theft, since I buy Rom Gold ; I had not had the bad memory. At present, I want to say thanks to the people who stole my account, if he did not to do that, I would not play game, I would not have Runes of Magic Gold . Although I have little Runes of Magic money , I will on the way of the game for long time. At one time or another, I am a pessimistic person, but when I have cheap Runes of Magic Gold , it changes my attitude of life.

Remembered the first time I played the game and bought wonderland Gold , it is about two years. Since the first day I bought wonderland online Gold , we should know that the day will come sooner or later. And I will not leave my wonderland money . My friends forever, even though I will leave you one day, I will remember you forever. At that time, I was a naive; I must used money to buy wonderland Gold , as that I would not depend on myself. But I was not regret to buy cheap wonderland online Gold . It is just a way bring me to the success.

5:26 PM  
Professor Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always heard something from my neighbor that he sometimes goes to the internet bar to play the game which will use him some maple mesos,he usually can win a lot of mesos,then he let his friends all have some cheap mesos,his friends thank him very much for introducing them the maplestory mesos,they usually maple story mesos together.
I am so happy to get some Metin2 gold and the Metin2 yang is given by my close friend who tells me that the Cheap metin2 yang is the basis to enter into the game. Therefore, I should Cheap metin2 gold with the spare money and I gain some Buy metin2 gold from other players.

5:06 PM  
Professor Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you know fiesta Gold? I like it.
My brother often go to the internet bar to buy fiesta money and play it.
After school, He likes playing games using these fiesta online gold with his friend.
I do not like to play it. Because I think that it not only costs much money but also spend much time. One day, he give me many buy fiesta Gold and play the game with me.
I came to the bar following him and found fiesta online money was so cheap. After that, I also go to play game with him.

Do you know fiesta Gold? I like it.
My brother often go to the internet bar to buy fiesta money and play it.
After school, He likes playing games using these fiesta online gold with his friend.
I do not like to play it. Because I think that it not only costs much money but also spend much time. One day, he give me many buy fiesta Gold and play the game with me.
I came to the bar following him and found fiesta online money was so cheap. After that, I also go to play game with him.

5:10 PM  
Professor Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you know that the wow gold? The players often forget to eat meal when they play the online games. In the game many players need the World of Warcraft Gold to up their levels. so they often search where can warcraft gold, I think our website maybe is your best choice. Many friends told me that in here can get buy wow gold, and here you can also relax yourself. so i hope more and more players come here to buy the cheap wow gold.

Do you want to know the magic of online games, and here you can get more Sho Online Mun. Do you want to have a try? Come on and Sho Mun can make you happy. You can change a lot Sho Online gold for play games. Playing online games can make much Sho gold. And you can buy Sho Online gold do what you want to do in the online game.

5:18 PM  
Professor Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always believe the angel is being and 12sky2 Gold . In fact, we all like listening to the songs of milk tea twelve sky2 Gold .
Generally speaking, I think is her voice very comfortable and mood of the story twelvesky2 Gold , We feel life bit by bit, looking forward the love belonging of the life feelings buy 12sky2 Gold , you will love milk tea like me, let us love her together and play cheap twelve sky2 Gold .
they are like me and tell me anything about them wakfu kamas, I know wakfu gold. one of my friend likes to go to play buy wakfu kamas, I can not stand praising the land and the nature wakfu money , It makes us to be wakfu kama.

5:26 PM  
Professor Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you heared about a game which you need use Anarchy credits to play, and you can also borrow Anarchy Online credits from other players? But you can buy AO credits, or you will lose the choice if you do not have Anarchy online gold. If you get Anarchy gold, you can continue this game.
Have you heared about a game which you need use Atlantica online Gold to play, and you can also borrow Atlantica Gold from other players? But you can buy Atlantica online Gold, or you will lose the choice if you do not have cheap Atlantica online Gold. If you get Atlantica online money, you can continue this game.

7:15 PM  
Professor Blogger feilin said...

I think 4story Luna changes my life. Because of 4story Gold, I meet a lot of friends. Besides, my friends usually give me some 4story money. I usually buy 4story Luna through Internet and advice from my friends, so I gain a lot of cheap 4story Luna and harvest in life.
Flyff is a very good game. Through buying flyff penya, I find fun in it. I am so glad that I can earn a lot of flyff money. Flyff cater to the taste of young people. With cheap penya, you can get everything you want in this game. So I like to buy flyff penya. For me flyff gold is not just a simple thing.

2:38 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

"Like strange bulldogs sniffing each other's butts, you could sense wariness from both sides"