Helium Shortage Looming

Hard drives filled with helium, rather than air, could see closer stacking of disk platters, better heat management and less energy consumed. A demonstration by manufacturer Western Digital is said to have shown power consumption reduced by 23% and an operating temperature 4°C lower than conventional drives.
Market researcher IHS says this approach holds huge potential and predicts demand could rise to 100m units a year by 2016. All very well, but is this an appropriate use for helium? Recently, concerns have been expressed about a growing shortage of the lightest inert gas. Helium is a central part of equipment such as MRI scanners and a vital research tool for scientists – the Large Hadron Collider wouldn’t function without it. And it’s important in semiconductor production: chip manufacturers currently account for 6% of annual consumption. But it’s also used to fill party balloons and scientists believe that is squandering a finite and increasingly scarce resource. Unlike other materials, helium can’t be recovered; once it’s vented to the atmosphere, it ‘leaks’ off into space. Already, calls are being made for the non essential use of helium to be banned. While it’s not yet time for rationing, apparently, it seems it’s time for alternatives to be explored.

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