Seems the world is running of out helium. Much of it comes from caves in Texas.
It could be worthwhile manufacturing helium in a Dense Plasma Focus.
Helium shortage being felt / Disney Resort, hospital MRIs affected by lack of rare gas
Fukutaro Yamashita and Hironari Akiyama / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers
A shortage of helium caused by increasing demand in emerging countries including China and India is beginning to affect Japan.
Tokyo Disney Resort has suspended sales of Disney-character balloons, and at least one hospital has suspended use of magnetic resonance imaging.
Helium is a rare resource mined as a byproduct in a limited number of natural gas fields in such places as the United States. Often used as a coolant because it has the lowest boiling point of all elements, the gas is used in the production of semiconductors and optical fibers. It is also used in MRIs and for low-temperature experiments.
Oriental Land Co., the operator of Tokyo Disney Resort in Chiba Prefecture, stopped selling its character balloons on Wednesday because it had difficulty procuring the gas. This is the first time it has suspended sales of the balloons, which have been very popular among children since the amusement park opened in 1983. It has not decided when to resume balloon sales, the company said.
In hospitals, liquid helium is used to cool electromagnets inside MRI machines when scanning patients’ bodies. A source at the hospital that suspended use of MRIs said finding substitute material may take some time, considering the nature and price of helium.
A gas wholesaler in Saitama Prefecture said its helium stock ran out in mid-November and that there would not be any available for shipment for a while.
All helium imported
Only about five nations have natural gas fields that can also produce helium. World production was about 168 million cubic meters in 2010.
Although Japan’s demand is a little less than 10 percent of world demand, it relies totally on imports, 95 percent of which come from the United States. The United States accounts for about 75 percent of world production.
According to Iwatani Corp., a major liquefied petroleum gas company, the annual helium demand in Japan is about 13 million cubic meters. More than 40 percent of that amount is used for industrial applications such as optical fiber production, and less than 30 percent is used for MRIs in hospitals.
Since 2000, demand for helium for both industrial and hospital use mainly in emerging countries such as China and India has rapidly increased. This has resulted in an at least threefold increase in helium prices in the last decade, greatly increasing the cost of semiconductor production, which relies heavily on helium.
Calls for government help
Furthermore, due to an accident at a helium production facility in the United States, the supply-demand balance has been very tight since July, according to an Iwatani division chief. The situation may not improve until next spring at the earliest, observers say.
Meanwhile, the production of shale gas, a low-cost natural gas, is expected to grow in the United States. However, not much helium is expected from the deep underground shale layers from which shale gas is extracted. Therefore, many predict that the situation can only become worse in the medium or long term.
LP gas firms in Japan plan to expand procurement from other nations, such as Qatar, starting next year. Some voices in the industry are calling for the central government to take measures to deal with the shortage.
(Nov. 27, 2012)