Global helium shortage

And finally a solution to that surplus argon problem too.

Interesting thread. A few questions.

  1. Does anyone know how long our helium reserves may last?

  2. Could anything be done nowadays to make hydrogen Zeppelins safer?

Why not go with sulfur hexafluoride in that case? It’s non-toxic and made from common elements. You could have really floaty balloons in that case. Just make sure to keep a fan going to keep the air well-mixed. Oh, and I suppose it is over 4 orders of magnitude more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, so keep it indoors.

As a bonus, it also makes everyone sound like Barry White.

For starters, you might choose not to coat the envelope with thermite.

There’s an oft-quoted figure out there by the US Dept of the Interior in 2014 that the world helium supply was enough for 117 years. In the US, we have something on the order of 20 to 30 years readily available. New deposits have been discovered in Tanzania which may be enormous.

Fun idea. And with interesting chemistry to boot. Count me in!

Almost as fun as the vacuum balloons that keep being proposed that also almost work as long as we don’t think about it.

From 2016:

From 2017:

You’d think if we stopped wasting it in balloons we could probably double that.

[quote=“Dr.Strangelove, post:37, topic:923423, full:true”]
… Oh, and I suppose it is over 4 orders of magnitude more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, so keep it indoors.
[/quote]Anything gaseous indoors eventually ends up outdoors, in the atmosphere. (Very few of us live in absolutely air-tight buildings.)

I have worked with Hydrogen (and helium for that matter) for last 20 years or so in Industrial settings, There is a lot of paranoia around Hydrogen primarily from the Hindenburg but a lot of it is misplaced. So the Axis used hydrogen because helium was cut off, well so what; Axis also used Hydrogen to make synthetic fuels (Fisher Tropsh) to power all the war machinery. Their oil supply was cut off too - all that hydrogen didn’t cause disasters.

When fuel cells came out about 20 years back, the biggest concern for hydrogen cars was explosions. But all of the Hydrogen cars crash tested came out with flying colors .

The thing which is often overlooked is that Hydrogen is the smallest molecule around and the molecule moves around incredibly fast. If you have a hydrogen leak, say in a warehouse - it will escape very quickly and the concentration will be same everywhere in the warehouse - very quickly. Hydrogen doesn’t pool at all.

Sure Hydrogen is flammable, but we understand with a high confidence level as to how to mitigate the risks. The controls are mature.

The gas that really scares me is oxygen. None of the shuttle or other rocket disasters are from hydrogen but many many are from oxygen. We have had incidents where liquid oxygen was spilled on an asphalt road and the road exploded. A worker working by an oxygen vent , went outside the plant for a smoke and got burnt to death. His clothes had absorbed oxygen. Even stainless steel pipe carrying oxygen will burn merrily if there is a sharp bend installed. The pipe itself burns with firework quality displays of iron, chromium and nickel burning with full color display.

Easy solution; just empty your swimming pool and fill it with SF6. It’s so dense it’ll stay in there for a long time. Just make sure everyone’s wearing SCUBA gear. Definitely don’t want to end up with a couple dozen dead children at the end of the birthday party. Small price to pay for floaty balloons, though.

As an aside:

It is fun to read Derek Lowe’s Things I Won’t Work With articles (he’s a chemist). One is about chlorine trifluoride. He relates an accident spill which burned through a foot of concrete and then a meter of sand below that.

From the link above:

It is, of course, extremely toxic, but that’s the least of the problem. It is hypergolic with every known fuel, and so rapidly hypergolic that no ignition delay has ever been measured. It is also hypergolic with such things as cloth, wood, and test engineers, not to mention asbestos, sand, and water-with which it reacts explosively. It can be kept in some of the ordinary structural metals-steel, copper, aluminium, etc.-because of the formation of a thin film of insoluble metal fluoride which protects the bulk of the metal, just as the invisible coat of oxide on aluminium keeps it from burning up in the atmosphere. If, however, this coat is melted or scrubbed off, and has no chance to reform, the operator is confronted with the problem of coping with a metal-fluorine fire. For dealing with this situation, I have always recommended a good pair of running shoes.

But despite that, there were two explosions at hydrogen fuel facilities in June of last year: one in California at a hydrogen production plant and one in Norway at a hydrogen fueling station. Wikipedia lists 9 incidents (including those two) involving hydrogen since the beginning of 2018. While all those were probably not with hydrogen intended for the retail market, it still seems like a rather high rate of incidents for a market still in its infancy. I suspect that market is not going to survive.

forgot to give the link to Wikipedia in the post above: Hydrogen safety

That quote is in fact from John D. Clark (it says so on the web page).

The oxygen safety video is here.

Much of the Wiki Links are for Oil & Gas / Chemicals manufacturing industry. If you look at the accidents, the impacts to human life are minimal. My guess is that Natural Gas related incidents or airplane related incidents would be in the same or higher severity over the same time period.

Since Haber made the first Ammonia plant , hydrogen consumption has only been increasing. Hydrogen is used to make Ammonia - which is the predominant way crops receive nitrogen. Unless humans stop eating, the market for Hydrogen will always be there.

Sorry…the whole article which I linked to was written by Derek Lowe and he included that quote from John D. Clark in his article.

My apologies for not making that clear.

I meant the retail market selling hydrogen to motorists who have fuel cell vehicles.

Yes, if you listen carefully you can hear it whooshing over your head on its way out :slight_smile:.

Does that mean that the helium that accumulates in underground cavities consists of alpha particles that were emitted as a result of radioactive alpha decay and then captured two electrons somewhere along the way?

Though I certainly don’t recommend filling your house with it, it is true that sulfur hexafluoride is non-toxic, so dense that it’ll stay in an open container, float an air-filled balloon (or even foil boat!), and make your voice super deep.

It’ll also suffocate you if you if you happen to be in a low, enclosed place and it collects there, so… maaaybe not suitable for kids.