So... What's Up with Helium?


There’s a shortage – right? That, anyway, is the news that’s been circulating for the last few years. On the basis of a handful of studies, it was determined that the world supply of helium (He) is being depleted at an alarming rate and will soon run out. (Well, okay, it might take several hundred years, but why wait until things get desperate, eh?)

We’re not here to tell you there isn’t a global helium shortage; some evidence supports the notion. We are here, though, to assure you that the PurityPlus® partner network of more than 150 specialty gas producers and distributors at 600 locations nationwide is more than able to fulfill your helium requirements well into the future. We also want to spread a little good news about the world’s helium reserves. The upshot is that there’s no reason to fear that there isn’t enough helium for your professional needs. Trust us; you’ll have plenty to facilitate every analytical task you routinely perform, be it in the realm of gas chromatography, spectroscopy, or mass spectrometry. The helium so essential for the operation of MRI scanners, for the production of semiconductors and superconductors, for various space industry applications, and for hi-tech facilities involved in nuclear research is readily available – and will continue to be – from your local PurityPlus® specialty gas supplier.

The good news about global helium reserves is that there may actually be more of them than we knew existed. According to more-recent studies:

  • Some geological regions have shown groundwater moving huge volumes of helium into natural gas fields and trapping it there.
  • Deep helium, released in the formation of mountain ranges such as the Rockies, has percolated via groundwater into subterranean reservoirs where natural gas is found as well.
  • In regions of volcanic activity, sufficient heat is produced in seismic upheavals to release helium from typical gas-trapping rock formations deeper underground into reservoirs closer to the earth’s surface. Obviously, it’s more accessible there – unless it’s too close to a volcano, which would make its extraction difficult.

The implications of these findings are that, 1) we’ve long underestimated how much helium is actually available to us, and 2) understanding the processes by which helium gets trapped in the natural reservoirs we know about is showing us where to prospect for new helium resources.

Of course, there are some who maintain that a helium crisis isn’t upon us, that helium is constantly produced in nature, and simply liquifying more natural gas would allow us to extract higher quantities of helium from it. It’s true that helium is extracted from natural gas via condensation. But the equipment required to do it has so far remained costly. This has kept helium extraction from liquified natural gas (LNG) at a minimum. As equipment prices drop, however, more helium extraction kits can be added to wells, allowing us to capture more of this noble gas before it would normally be burned up.

So, again, never fear. We do have viable options for obtaining more helium. And you can depend on your local PurityPlus® specialty gas supplier to have the helium you need – whether as a coolant, a pressurizer, or a cleaning agent – whenever and wherever you need it.