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Peak Helium

Discussion in 'Science' started by Supplanter, Sep 24, 2012.

  1. Supplanter

    Supplanter Member

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    This was something I had thought about the last time I saw wayward balloons floating up into the sky, but I didn't think it was this serious.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19676639

    Are there any other sources for lighter than air gasses for balloons, or perhaps other gasses that can be used for more serious pursuits if we run out of helium?
     
  2. The Wolf

    The Wolf Member

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    Australian Weather balloons currently use hydrogen because of supply issues with helium.
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2012
  3. mAJORD

    mAJORD Member

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    hydrogen filled party balloons. Now that'd be interesting.
     
  4. Foos

    Foos Member

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    Hydrogen.

    Easy to make, plentiful - you can make it in your bedroom.

    Rather explosive tho :D
     
  5. dr_deathy

    dr_deathy Member

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    eh?

    seams BS to me, If my 50 year old fridge can hold its gas im sure these hugely expensive MRI can and have catchment, and if you want to toss a fridge or AC unit all the gas must be collected or else!

    Its not like you cool it to near 0K and it changes or degrades hell its a inert gas FFS.
     
  6. Phido

    Phido Member

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    The problem is MRI or NMR machines vent to atmosphere. They have to or they would explode.

    They have two levels of cooling, liquid nitrogen and liquid helium. The nitrogen needs to be filled every fortnight usually. Liquid he needs to be filled 3-4 months.

    The nitrogen is not a problem, its cheap and can be recaptured and used again and again. Infact 70% of what you are breathing is nitrogen, there is stacks of it.

    Helium is not. There is almost no free helium in our atmosphere. The stuff that is there escapes within days and leaves the earth completely. We cannot make helium easily (it is effectively impossible except at a few atoms at a time). Helium is able to pass through many materials because it is so small (a single atom). Your fridge uses a big ugly hydrofluro carbon or if its more modern a hydrocarbon. Could contain 10 or more atoms all bonded together. Helium can diffuse through some solids even if they are perfectly sealed.

    We can use hydrogen gas, its cheap, plentiful. it can do the cooling job with a lower temp than liquid helium. However because all this stuff vents to atmosphere, every science lab or hospital would have to be redesigned so they don't explode with a build up of hydrogen. To recapture it would cost billions. New machines should actually have a system to capture most of the gas so it can be reused.

    Helium is a critical, non renewable resource that once released, leaves earth completely. To stick it in a kids balloon and effectively release stacks of it seems a waste. hydrogen can actually be used in kids balloons. While hydrogen is dangerous, the quanity that goes into a kids balloon is not that dangerous. The plastic would actually most likely pose more of a fire risk.

    The balloons themselves actually pose a health risk to marine life, we should probably avoid using them anyway. They are fun though.
     
  7. patto

    patto Member

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    Yeah I've read about that before. It actually is kind of unavoidable.

    The wastage of this finite irreplaceable product is scary.
     
  8. dr_deathy

    dr_deathy Member

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    venting it is hardly a massive engineering problem, just compress the waste into a bottle to be shipped back for refining (in case any contaminates got in) then ship back, losses would be less then 2-3% + accidental and seal failure.

    Its not like electrolysis cells explode...

    agree on the balloons, a lot of negatives there.
     
  9. damn duck

    damn duck Member

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    Helium escapes to the moon. We need to send clones there to bring it back.
     
  10. Revenge

    Revenge Member

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    What could possibly go wrong?


    Click to view full size!



    ,
     
  11. vincenz

    vincenz New Member

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    I didn't know MRI machines needed such fancy cooling setups.

    Couldn't the MRI machines be cooled just with nitrogen/without needing helium?
     
  12. Doso

    Doso Member

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    No, MRIs use superconducting magnets.

    Basically the colder they are kept the better

    Liquid Helium has a boiling point of 4.2k

    while Liquid Nitrogen boils at 77k
     
  13. dr_deathy

    dr_deathy Member

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    He also doesnt freeze under normal pressure so you can get as close as you can to 0k and it still flows. Im not sure under what conditions it turn to a super fluid which is also hell mad!
     
  14. Phido

    Phido Member

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    Helium is also going to get a lot more scarce. Currently most it is from strategic storage or from processing oil..

    Neither is going to be a round a whole lot in 20-50 years. Demand however will go up. For all we know helium could be the future of fusion reactors or some new super fluid science or new use for superconductors.

    The main problem is once the strategic supply is all sold off, producers are privatised, the price will no doubt go up 1000%. Hospitals and research will become very expensive.
     
  15. MoorKhan

    MoorKhan Member

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    Pretty sure there's quite a lot of Helium in our atmosphere (billions of tons anyway). It's impractically expensive to extract at the moment though, because its spread really thinly in amongst everything else.

    Also, I was under the impression the escape process was incredibly slow, certainly not a case of 'within days'?

    Liquid helium has a lower boiling point than liquid hydrogen doesn't it?

    It really does seem like a shame that the US decided to start selling off its stockpile shortly before a major increase in demand though. Hopefully as prices and demand increase the natural gas plants with lower concentrations will start capturing it.
     
  16. Phido

    Phido Member

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    There is more in the earth than in the atmosphere. Getting it from the atmosphere would make it much more expensive than neon. Maybe $50,000 a litre?

    Its pretty quick. Esp if a balloon carries a bulk of it several km up then pops and its already above 95% of the atmosphere. It doesn't come back down..

    Yes, but you can still cool hydrogen as cool as helium. Its not likely its going to turn into a solid at normal atmospheric pressures. But they way I phrased my statement is confusing.. Drugs I guess.


    Its very short sighted.. Wait 10 years. Instead of $5 a litre sell it for $500 a litre.
     
  17. ikonz0r

    ikonz0r Member

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    I say we set up a syndicate. Get a 1000 litre tank, fill her with pure, wait, then profit.

    Who's in?? :Pirate:
     
  18. RobRoySyd

    RobRoySyd Member

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    Many passengers survived.
     
  19. Billzilla

    Billzilla Member

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    Not me as most of it will have escaped by then.
     
  20. vincenz

    vincenz New Member

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    To me it seems simple enough to reduce the heat produced, by reducing the current flow and increasing the number of turns in the superconducting magnets.
    So you end up with the same magnetic strength/density from a larger but cooler running magnet.
    Sure this would make the MRI a little bigger and more expensive to build, and modding existing ones would probably mean a total rebuild, but I don't believe that it's not possible to cool them just with nitrogen.

    Maybe my guess is way off, but I bet it's just a case of Helium being a cheap and easier solution atm.
     

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