Peak Helium

In an article from the New Scientist, Nobel Price Winner Robert Richardson discusses the reasons for a shortage of Helium which may run out within 25 years from now for purely politial reasons. In summary, Helium is used in technical applications like MRI scanners where it cools superconducting magnets. This works since there’s no substance with lower boiling point (4.22 K). While it is, after Hydrogen, the most abundantly available substance in the universe, accounting for about 24% of the elemental mass of our galaxy, it is relatively rare on our planet – about 0.00052 % by volume in the atmosphere. Extracting it from the air would make its price rise by 10,000 times. Nevertheless, Helium is “sold out” by the U.S. government who holds about 50 % of the Earth’s helium stocks in a national Helium reserve – about a billion cubic metres in a facility near Amarillo, Texas:

In 1996 Congress passed an act requiring that this strategic reserve […] be sold off by 2015. As a result, helium is far too cheap and is not treated as a precious resource.

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