Chemistry

Where does Helium come from



Gene Patterson's image for:
"Where does Helium come from"
Caption: 
Location: 
Image by: 
©  

If you are a believer in Greek mythology you could say that Helium comes from the God Helios who was the god of Sun and eventually deposed by Zeus.

♦  Where does Helium come from: Reality

 This linking to the creation of the universe is an apt one.  Helium is a gas that is incredibly abundant in the universe, being second only to Hydrogen.   The majority of Helium was created in the “Big Bang” so this dovetails nicely with the Greek myth of Helios the Sun God who, as a Titan was one of the creators of the world.

♦  What is Helium?

Helium is a natural gas.  It is not toxic.  It is not radioactive and it is environmentally friendly.  Though Helium is abundant in the Universe at large it is not easy to find here on Earth.  Helium is formed by radioactive decay.  The Alpha Particles are stopped by the rock and overtime as they decay become Helium.  It is interesting that when you fill a Helium balloon or suck in Helium to change the pitch of your voice you are using material that was once upon a time very radioactive.

♦  Where does Helium come from: On Earth

 In the Universe helium is abundant.  On Earth, not so much.  The Largest amount of helium is extracted from Natural Gas deposits from deep within the Earth.  In the United States this means a lot of Helium comes from Texas and New Mexico.  The Amount of Natural Gas in these pockets can vary from a very minor amount to a 7-8% of the volume of natural gas.

♦  How do they extract Helium from the Natural Gas?

Helium has a lower boiling point than the other gases.  To extract Helium the main way is to lower the temperature and pressure to the point where the other gases liquefy.  At this point the still gaseous Helium can be removed.  After this it goes through some further purification processes to get the final grade of Helium, but most of the work is done in this first stage.

 ♦  Where does Helium come from around the Globe.

The process to get Helium out of natural gas is a fairly expensive one.  Expensive enough that many natural gas manufacturers are not willing to invest the money in the infrastructure to separate it from the gas for the minor profits it brings, when they are already making so much money from the gas.  Over 90% of the worlds stores of helium are found and stored in the United States.  With the enormous National Debt the US began selling of the enormous reserves of Helium that they have been collecting over the years, with reserves depleting and incoming Helium currently not meeting demand, expect that prices of Helium will only continue to rise in the foreseeable future.

 

More about this author: Gene Patterson

ARTICLE SOURCES AND CITATIONS