You know when you go to a party, and someone whips out some helium balloons? It’s all very funny. Watching someone turn into a cartoon character for a few sentences will always produce a few laughs.
Sadly, we might be seeing a slow-down in such party tricks; the world has a present helium shortage. And it could be putting more than just party balloons at risk: it could have an impact on everything from our ability to explore the stars to how we handle healthcare worldwide.
This is the third major shortage of helium in the last 15 years, and it does have a bit of an impact on the industry as a whole. Many might not think it matters much but trust us – it does. It really does. Helium is used in all manner of industries, from healthcare and technology to being used in some forms of space exploration.
This super-light element is used as a semiconductor in various fields. That is now at risk.
Helium is generated underneath the earth; the product of radioactive decaying of uranium and thorium. It’s then drilled out from the surface using massive drilling techniques. However, it’s becoming more and more challenging to get enough helium out from the earth. It’s having an impact on everything from research into gas chromatography to issues with healthcare needs.
While healthcare is often the industry that gets prioritized over everything else (rightly so), it’s becoming a common issue. To have a shortage once every five years almost is a big change in the way we used to deal with a substance that, at once, was almost in complete abundance.
The next challenge, then, is going to be finding newer sources of helium. With the cost of helium going up so much due to demand, the sooner we can find a higher volume of supply the better.
Indeed, some companies out in Canada are working on a form of production that would make it easier for us to find the supply we need. Indeed, companies like North American Helium currently have six major wells completed and have over one million acres worth of helium imports.
However, the time it takes to create a well from conception to a fully operating helium plant is many years. As such, it’s not quite quick enough to deal with the immediate shortages that we are facing at the moment. Canada, though, has a slightly different form of helium: it appears to be formed by underground nitrogen reservoirs.
Getting this out of the ground is much easier and it would have a much small environmental impact when pulling it out. As such, a lot of effort and concentration is going into helping this particular kind of development become the norm.
Given that this is quite unique to Canada, though, it’s still not going to help with the global shortages we are facing – not everyone can use the same easier solutions for extraction.
The demand for helium is real, and something has to be done to try and keep up with demand.