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Conserving Helium

January 28, 2008

Global helium resources are dwindling, and there’ll be no substitute if we run out.


Keeping helium from escaping. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Helium isn’t just for balloons and funny voices: its unique chemical properties make it valuable to industries like fiber optics, rocketry, and nuclear power. But according to physical chemist Lee Sobotka of Washington University in St. Louis, we should keep a more careful eye on Earth’s dwindling helium reserves.

LEE SOBOTKA (Washington University in St. Louis):
It is a non-renewable resource. It is replenished on Earth at a rate that is incredibly slow; that’s the same as oil and gas. But different than oil and gas is that there are no substitutes.

With demand rising, the world’s largest helium reserve may be spent within a decade. What’s more, Sobotka says that oil and gas drilling leaks Earth’s stored helium into the air. He says capturing that helium, along with better industrial recycling, could help shore up our supplies. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.