Massive ‘Life-Saving’ Helium Field Just Turned Out to Be Far Bigger Than We’d Hoped

No more helium shortage!

New analysis of a gargantuan helium deposit discovered in Tanzania last year has revealed that there may be much more of the gas than initial surveys revealed.

At the time, the find, called “life-saving,” was estimated to contain at least 54 billion cubic feet (1.5 billion cubic metres). To put that in perspective, domestic helium consumption in the US for 2016 was 1.7 billion cubic feet, and the US has total known helium reserves of 153 billion cubic feet.

Now, according to new measurements taken of the helium, there could be a lot more than that – around 98.6 billion cubic feet, according to Thomas Abraham-James, CEO of helium company Helium One.

“It’s pretty much doubled in size,” he told Live Science.

The global helium shortage affects a lot more than blimps and party balloons.

Helium is used to cool the magnetic resonance magnets in MRI machines, and it’s also used as a coolant for nuclear magnetic resonance and at the Large Hadron Collider. NASA uses it in rocket fuel, and it’s also used as a carrier gas in gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy.

The new estimates were based on new, real-time measurements taken by University of Oxford geologists Peter Barry and Chris Ballentine in late 2016. The field-sampling methods used in 2015 for the initial estimate allowed air into the sample, so the density of helium showed as much lower than it should have.

“Detailed macroseep gas compositions … shows the deep gas to contain between 8-10 percent helium, significantly increasing resource estimates based on uncorrected values,” Barry and Ballentine wrote in the abstract of a paper they presented in August at the 2017 Goldschmidt Conference.

The initial samples contained an average of 2.6 percent helium. For those, the samples were collected in the field and taken back to laboratory for analysis. By comparison, for last year’s survey, Barry and Ballentine used a portable mass spectrometer.

“We made probably 50 measurements out there in the field, and we saw up to four times as much helium in these samples,” Barry said. “So this was really exciting for us, because we were able to show quite convincingly that there’s a lot more helium than we originally assessed.”

The deposit found last year could turn things around – not just because of its size, but how it was found.

The research team found that volcanic activity releases helium trapped deep underground into shallower pockets closer to the Earth’s surface. Armed with this information, they went looking for a helium deposit – and found it.

At the time the discovery was announced, Ballentine said that 54 billion cubic feet was enough to fill 1.2 million MRI machines. The new estimate of 98.6 billion cubic feet could fill 2.2 million.

And, according to Abraham-James, that estimate is conservative.

“We are probably still somewhat understating what is present, but nevertheless, that gives us room to update and improve as we progress,” he said.

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The Science Behind Helium Balloons

Balloons lighten our mood and add colour to any space. And for adventure seekers, a bunch of balloons means an opportunity to take off. Many have tried flying with the help of balloons, especially those filled with helium. Why helium? What’s the science behind it? Read on to know more…

Once upon a time, there lived an old man who turned his house into a makeshift airship, by tying thousands of helium balloons to it? He did so to fulfil a promise made to his late wife of moving to a cliff near ‘Paradise Falls’ in South America before the balloons deflate. Does the story ring a bell? Yes, it’s the plot of Disney’s 2009 film Up . But the idea is not entirely fiction. Many have tried flying with the help of balloons, especially those filled with helium. As recently as last month, a psychotherapist-cum-artist, Noemi Lakmaier, was lifted up by 20,000 balloons at Sydney Opera House. She was mid-air for nine hours to overcome her fear of flying. The past two decades have witnessed a rise in the cluster and lawn chair balloonists. Let’s see the science behind such airships…

What is a helium balloon?

Gas balloons filled with helium are called helium balloons. When you hold their strings, they ride along above your head and if you let go, they can be out of sight in no time. Helium balloons are used in birthday parties and celebrations, where they are mass-released into the air.

Helium is lighter than air. While a litre of air weighs about 1.25 grams, a litre of helium weighs only 0.18 grams. Therefore, a balloon filled with helium would weigh less than the one filled with air. Helium balloons work by the law of buoyancy (or the Archimedes’ Principle) you learnt in middle school. The buoyant force from air pressure (which is equal to the weight of the air displaced by the balloon) acts on the balloon and pushes it upward. It keeps the balloon afloat, without pulling it down by gravitational force.

Why don’t they stay afloat longer?

Typically, the buoyancy lasts a day, as the helium atoms escape through small pores in the latex balloon. Whereas a balloon filled with air can retain its size much longer.

In fact, hydrogen weighs even lesser than helium. But because of their combustibility, it is not preferred in gas balloons.

What are some milestones in ballooning?

The practice of using balloons, both gas and hot air, to fly is called ballooning. The first ever manned ballooning dates back to 1783, when French brothers Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier built a hot air balloon and gave their first public demonstration on June 4 that year. There have been many milestones in the field, including a flight across the English Channel. As far as helium ones are concerned, key events include the one by Explorer II high-altitude balloon, piloted by U.S. Armymen in 1935, which reached a record height of 72,395 ft. In 1982, a truck driver from California, Larry Walters picked up 45 weather balloons and tethered them to his aluminum lawn chair. He rocketed to 16,000 feet. After shooting a few balloons, the balloonist landed on Long Beach. He popularised lawnchair ballooning. In 2001, Brit Mike Howard and American Steve Davis flew 18,300 feet over Albuquerque, New Mexico, using 1,400 helium toy balloons.

What are the other uses of helium balloons?

The Soviet Union used helium balloons to study the atmosphere of Venus. It dropped two helium balloons using the probes Vega 1 and 2 in 1985 into the planet’s atmosphere. The balloons provided data about wind and atmospheric conditions for 46 hours. Human rights activists and South African government use large helium balloons to send messages across to the people of North Korea.The balloons they float across the border carry news from the outside world, foreign currency and gifts such as personal hygiene supplies.

Why are helium balloons considered harmful?

When helium balloons are released, the helium atoms eventually get mixed into space, sending back chunks of latex to the ground, which are often mistaken for food by animals and birds. The remains either block the animal’s airways and choke them, or get lodged in their digestive tract causing a fatal illness. Scientists are also against wasting non-renewable helium in balloons. Inhaling helium can be harmful.

How different are hot air balloons from gas balloons?

In hot air balloons, an on-board burner heats up air and provides the required lift. Whereas, in gas balloons, helium (or hydrogen) is filled, to generate lift.

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Light Gas Supports Heavy Mission

mmunition inspectors carefully lift the lid to the single round container (SRC), as the team leader reads detailed instructions aloud to ensure every step is properly performed. The team meticulously executes each required action, resulting in a successful test that validates the serviceability of the SRC.
“The helium test is a vital part of our ability to quickly contain a leaking chemical munition,” said Jeffrey K. Angel, surveillance ammunition inspector for the Blue Grass Chemical Activity (BGCA).
“Our quarterly tests ensure we have an SRC ready for use at all times in the rare event that a leaker occurs,” he said. “A successful helium test lets us know that the SRC will contain the agent when we place the leaking round into it. We call this process overpacking.”
BGCA, located at Blue Grass Army Depot, Kentucky, stores more than 101,000 chemical filled munitions in 45 storage buildings called igloos. These include M55 rockets, 155 mm projectiles and rocket warheads. The chemical weapons at the depot were received as far back as 1944, and consist of the blister agent mustard (H) and nerve agents sarin (GB) and VX.
Most munitions are stored without incident, however there are rare occasions when a munition will leak a vapor or liquid in storage. When this occurs, the leaking munition must be isolated and placed in an SRC to contain the leak, then moved to an igloo dedicated to storage of overpacked rounds. This helps to ensure the safety of the workers, community and environment.
Each SRC must be tested to ensure no vapor or liquid from the munition can escape. But why test it with helium?
“The helium atom is very small and lighter than air,” said John F. Trosper, chief quality assurance specialist. “GB, VX, and H molecules are all very large and heavier than air. If a helium atom cannot escape from an SRC we are very confident that molecules of toxic chemical munitions cannot escape either.”
The test begins with inspecting the exterior and interior surfaces of the SRC for dents, cracks, gouges, rust and other irregularities. The butyl rubber O-ring is also analyzed for serviceability.
If all is well, the ammunition inspectors record the SRC’s serial number, install the test O-ring and pressurize the test container using a helium dispenser. The container must be sealed within the time programmed into the dispenser for each SRC configuration, usually four to nine minutes. This helps to ensure an accurate reading. Once the lid is bolted back onto the SRC, the workers cover the container with a large plastic bag, tape the bag to get a good seal and insert the nozzle of the testing unit, the Leakhunter Plus 8066 leak detector.
“The Leakhunter Plus is a high caliber piece of equipment that is commonly used across many industries,” said Angel. “It detects several different gas groups, including gas group one which includes helium. We expose the Leakhunter to helium prior to the test to be sure it is reading properly.”
If the results are high after 15 seconds, then helium is leaking and a second test is performed. If the second test fails, the O-ring is replaced and the test is repeated. If an additional leak test failure occurs, the container is rejected.
“We do not have many rejected SRCs,” said Angel. “If one does fail multiple tests, we take it out of rotation and call the Chemical Materials Activity for disposition instructions. Many times they will leave it here. We paint it blue and use it as a training tool for the crews to practice conducting overpack operations.”
The helium test is a small but important part of BGCA’s mission to oversee the safe and secure storage of the chemical weapons stockpile.
“I have a high degree of confidence in this test,” said Angel. “It is one way we work to ensure the safety of workers, the public and environment when a leaker occurs.”
BGCA is committed to the safe and secure storage of the chemical weapons until the stockpile is destroyed at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant.

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Western Digital Is Working On 40 TB Hard Drives With The Help Of Microwaves

Sure, Western Digital missed the opportunity to buy Toshiba’s flash memory technology, but that doesn’t mean it’s not working hard on trying to develop new innovative ways for data storage.
The company has now revealed a groundbreaking data storage technology called microwave-assisted magnetic recording, or MAMR, which will pave the way for 40 TB hard disk drives by no later than 2025. But Western Digital says the core technology will start rolling out to data centers by 2019.

This is terrific news, especially since users are currently generating data much faster than storage devices have been able to keep up with — even mobile phones now have 256 GB of storage, and even that is sometimes amazingly not enough for others. Like it or not, people are now living in the data age, and innovations in hardware need to reflect that.
“Commercialization of MAMR technology will pave the way to higher recording densities and lower cost per terabyte hard disk drives,” said John Rydning, Western Digital’s VP of research.

So what does microwave technology have to with hard disk drives? Here’s the deal: Western Digital has created a new technology called spin torque oscillator, which produces a microwave field. This enables writing data into magnetic media at a lower magnetic field than typical hard disks, which means it’s possible to “pack more bits into the same space,” as Engadget puts it.

MAMR is “ready for prime time,” and it’s able to provide customers “a more cost-effective, more reliable solution,” according to Western Digital in a more tech-savvy post discussing the underpinnings of the technology. It adds that MAMR can “extend areal density gains up to 4 Terabits per square inch” and will rely on helium for turbulence reduction, as with the company’s other drives geared toward enterprises.

What does this mean, though? Is this an entirely new type of hard disk drives? Well, not exactly. Western Digital will still use what’s essentially the same disk space, but it will rely on MAMR going forward to try and cram more data into a data storage technology people have been using for years. It sounds less glamorous this way, sure, but it’s the best option for now, as Gizmodo points out.

But there’s also the matter of reliability versus cost. SSDs are fast becoming popular across laptops and desktops because they’re faster and arguably more reliable than HDDs that have fragile spinning disks, but it’s significantly more expensive. If MAMR works anything like Western Digital describes, it could be crucial for data centers and cloud storage enterprises, especially as people crave, use, store, and demand more storage and data.

Western Digital Is Working On 40 TB Hard Drives With The Help Of Microwaves

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The Race Of The Manufacturers Of MRI To Reduce Their Dependence On Helium

Away from the hustle and bustle of the race to electric vehicles, it is a battle of similar, but far more unobtrusive among the manufacturers of MRI: reducing the fossil energy consumption of these large medical imaging devices, fond of liquid helium.

Magnetic resonance imaging is now a tool of medical diagnosis very common: more than 100 million MRI scans are performed each year in the world and this market is expected to reach € 6 billion in 2021, compared with 4.7 billion euros in 2016, according to research firm MarketsandMarkets. Born in the late 1970s, the technology uses the properties of atoms of hydrogen present in the water of our body by making it respond to a powerful magnetic field to then convert their signals into 2D or 3D images. This magnetic field is produced by magnets made of “superconductors” (no electrical resistance) through copper coils immersed in helium, a gas with a liquid a temperature close to absolute zero, around -269 degrees Celsius. So it is to be a few hundred, or even up to 2,000 litres of liquid helium to operate a MRI, depending on the model. Some require to be recharged from time to time, a portion of the helium that might evaporate back to the gaseous state. Gold helium “is expensive because it is becoming scarce”, explains to the AFP Serge Ripart, director imaging Siemens Healthineers, the society of medical technology in the German giant Siemens, the global market leader MRI.

– Philips pulls out the first –

Because the helium cannot be produced artificially at the present time. It mostly comes from natural gas deposits, from where it is extracted by the cryogenic process. Its prices oscillate “from 20 to 40 euros per liter, according to the country”, adds Mr Ripart.
“This could increase by 50% to 100% in the coming months,” says Marceau Eck, marketing manager, MRI at Philips France, pointing to “problems of quantities” in the United States and “geopolitical uncertainty” hanging over other major producers, such as Qatar.
An alignment of planets appropriate to the Dutch Philips, which launches this month the MRI consume less helium in the world: his “Ingenia Ambition X” is able to operate with only 7 litres of liquid helium, and without the need of recharging, ” says Dr. Eck. Principle: rather than submerge fully in the liquid helium, the superconducting coils, they are coated in “microtubules”, in order to cool with an amount of helium is optimized, ” he explains. “We wanted this machine to become the standard horizon 2019-2020 (…). It comes up with something that is really new compared to the competition. Some announcing for many years that they will have it, but they are still in their tests,” he adds. Thus, as early as 2016, the u.s. GE Healthcare unveiled “Freelium”, a MRI also requiring very little helium (20 litres at the time). But it has not been marketed: a deliberate choice, according to the group.

– “A progress, not a revolution” –

“It was found that there was a certain amount of interest [for this technology], but also for the technology that conventional”, the market of MRI is “quite a traditionalist”, recently explained to AFP Stéphane Maquaire, director of the activity MRI in Europe from GE Healthcare. “It’s a bit like the electric car: the +switch+ (failover, editor’s NOTE) is not going to be immediate,” according to him. Such an innovation represents an additional cost for the purchase, which delays the gains of savings generated by a reduced consumption of helium. However, the emerging markets, where sales of MRI are the most dynamic, “will more likely go on to the MRI input of the range, with acquisition costs lower”, argued Mr Maquaire. Siemens Healthineers also “know how” of the MRI works with a few tens of liters of helium, but also tests in-house for the time being. “This is not a development priority” for the group, which prefers to focus on innovations with a clinical impact, as the reduction of the acquisition time of the MRI, according to Mr Ripart. “It is progress, but not a revolution,” he adds, recalling that many MRI mechanisms have more need of charging, thanks to systems to liquefy helium in a closed circuit. “The real break-up would be to obtain the superconductivity of the magnets to ambient temperature, working on new materials, and the judge said it. “Research teams are working everywhere in the world, but I don’t know if there will come a day”.

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