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[deleted] t1_je1kmjq wrote


Snatch_Pastry t1_je1llzf wrote

We're not even close to depleting earth's supply. It's just that years ago, it stopped being economical to bother capturing it as it comes up with natural gas. Uranium decay creates the helium deep underground. So when it gets expensive enough, they'll rebuild the capture and separation equipment.


[deleted] t1_je1mkbo wrote



platoprime t1_je1nq84 wrote

The important point doesn't change though. We can tap tons of wells of helium that we didn't tap for natural gas because there was too much helium. The price just has to go up to make that profitable. We're not going to run out of helium any time soon.


javanator999 t1_je1nrmv wrote

Qatar is currently producing about 1/3 of the total helium production from its natural gas production. It could produce more if the price was higher.

Helium in natural gas isn't that rare, it's just that the very low prices we've had for years don't make it economical to extract.


Snatch_Pastry t1_je1og05 wrote

Interesting. He's not shitting about the cost of doing by air separation, though, he may actually be underselling it. I used to work in air separation, and various companies have tried going after the rare gasses, like xenon and helium. You're dealing with so few molecules that keeping the in/out flow in the columns stable is nearly impossible.


Nyrin t1_je1p2vp wrote

The news you hear about helium supply is not (or shouldn't be) about extractable amounts on the planet — it's about what's commercially available.

Extraordinary amounts of helium are just discarded during things like natural gas extraction because helium isn't profitable enough for those companies to extract, store, and sell. That means commercial supply goes down and, with constant or increasing demand, price goes up. At some point, it becomes profitable to separate and sell it again, at which point supply increases, price goes down, and the cycle repeats.

This process is being intensified, especially in creating lower price floors, by long-standing selloffs of nationalized helium reserves that were created when we thought dirigibles were the future of warfare.

Helium is effectively a non-renewable resource (decay products are created very slowly and need to accumulate over millions of years to be harvestable, besides) and we will run out of it someday, but that day is still very far off and unlikely to happen in the lifetime of anyone alive barring major life extension advancements (yes, please!).

What we will see is continued boom/bust cycles as reserves are depleted and markets stabilize on current real extraction costs. And it'll likely be a steady increase over time as the long-term depressive effect of stockpile release dwindles.

Helium can be synthesized via nuclear reactions and, in a hypothetical situation where the Earth really "ran out," that's what we'd likely end up doing. It'd just be many orders of magnitude more expensive than today and probably make asteroid capture look very appealing. But that hypothetical day is very far off past much more prominent existential threats.


fizzmore t1_je1lk1o wrote

Well, it's not a uniform distribution. The fact that it's the second most abundant element in the universe doesn't mean it was the second most abundant element on Earth.