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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

He Redux

From Physics Today, earlier this summer comes this update: "Helium shortage hampers research and industry"
The situation is likely to become even more dire in the near future. Kornbluth and Leslie Theiss, field office manager at the US Bureau of Land Management's helium operations in Amarillo, say the worldwide demand for helium is growing, fueled at least in part by the growth of high-tech manufacturing in China, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. Companies in those countries use helium in the production of semiconductors, flat-panel displays, and optical fibers.

Meanwhile, the tightened supply and higher costs are prompting efforts in both academia and industry to convert to dry cryostats, or closed-cycle refrigerant units, which eliminate the need to replenish helium. But the systems don't suit everyone. They're costly—up to $50 000 apiece, according to Allen Goldman, a physicist at the University of Minnesota. And some units' base temperatures are limited, able to bring helium down to only 2.7 K, not cold enough for all types of research.

Until other sources are developed, industry officials warn, the worldwide helium supply will continue to be squeezed. "We're producing everything we can here but it just isn't enough," says Theiss.
Bob Park said pretty much the same thing a few years ago. I would imagine that this peak and decline will play out in some quite unexpected ways. Professional clowns will feel the hurt first and the hardest.


Professor Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who uses MRI magnets every day, I have been worried about this for some time. I wrote a short article partly on this topic a ways back on the Oil Drum: Why oil (and helium) are still underpriced.

Marty Sereno

12:52 PM  
Professor Blogger WHT said...

That's a nice article, sorry I missed it the first time round.

8:05 PM  
Professor Anonymous Anonymous said...

I run the global helium business for an industrial gas compnay and I can tell you that we are nowhere close to peak helium. But helium is a by-product of natural gas processing and very large investments are required in LNG production and natural gas processing before the relatively modest investments in helium production can be contemplated. The current shortage will continue for the next few years in my opinion. PSK

7:14 AM  
Professor Blogger WHT said...

If you run a Helium business you have a vested interest. Clearly NG is at or near a peak, therefore Helium is at or near a peak.

7:08 AM  

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