How is helium gas obtained?

Innovation News Network explores the ways in which helium gas can be obtained and explains why it is so valuable.

Helium gas is a noble gas that has many uses, from manufacturing products to providing medical treatments. It is also non-toxic and does not react with other elements or compounds. Due to its unique properties, helium gas is highly sought after for various applications.

The process of obtaining helium gas begins with locating underground reservoirs of natural gas that contain the element in trace amounts. The extraction process consists of separating out the impurities from this natural gas, leaving behind only pure helium molecules. Once extracted, the purified form of helium must then be compressed into tanks or containers before being shipped off for use in industrial or healthcare settings.

Understanding how helium gas is obtained helps us to appreciate its importance as an essential resource used throughout industry and medicine today. The next section of this article will discuss each stage of the extraction process in more detail, highlighting the technologies involved and their benefits.

Definition of helium

Helium is a noble gas that has been known for centuries, yet its true properties were only recently discovered. Its atomic number is two and it is the second lightest element in the periodic table. It exists naturally as a monatomic gas and is colourless and odourless. One of its most remarkable characteristics is that, unlike other gases, helium remains liquid at extremely low temperatures, allowing scientists to explore this unique property further.

Helium’s physical structure consists of one electron orbiting around an atomic nucleus made up of two protons and two neutrons. This combination gives helium certain characteristics that distinguish it from other elements; it does not react with any other element except under special circumstances such as extreme heat or pressure. Helium belongs to the group 18 family on the periodic table and has seven electrons in its outermost shell, making it exceptionally stable compared to other elements in its same family.

When viewed through spectroscopy, helium can be classified into three different types: singlet He-1 line emission spectrum, doublet He-2 line emission spectrum, and triplet He-3 line emission spectrum. These are all variants of hydrogen but have slightly different properties which allow them to absorb or emit light energy differently depending on their composition. By studying these spectral lines closely, scientists can tell how much each type of helium is present in a sample.

Helium gas cylinder
© shutterstock/Ladanifer

From thermodynamic studies, we now know that helium gas can be obtained by liquefying air either by cooling or compressing it until it reaches -269°C (-452°F). At this temperature, some components become solid while others remain gaseous including nitrogen (78%), oxygen (21%), and trace amounts of argon (0.9%). The remaining 0.1% is composed mostly of helium so separating out this small amount requires very sophisticated equipment which allows us to finally access pure samples of this precious resource found deep within our planet’s atmosphere.

History of helium production

Having explored the definition of helium, it is now necessary to examine how this element is obtained. Historically, helium was produced in various ways as far back as 1895. Today’s production processes are much more advanced and efficient than those used a century ago.

The majority of current-day helium gas production comes from natural gas deposits located around the world, such as those found in Qatar, Russia, and the United States. The industry has developed sophisticated extraction techniques that allow for large amounts of this noble gas to be harvested from these reserves. Here is an overview of some key aspects related to helium production:

Extraction: The process starts with extracting helium from underground deposits using specialised drills and pumps. This extracted material then needs to go through several stages before becoming pure enough for use in medical or industrial applications.

Purification: Once extracted, impurities must be removed from the raw material using special filters and chemical treatments. After purification, the product can reach up to 99% purity levels suitable for commercial purposes.

Storage: Since there are no known sources of liquid helium on Earth, storage tanks are employed by producers to store their products until needed by customers. These tanks have been designed to maintain extremely low temperatures without losing any pressure during transport or handling operations.

To sum up, modern-day technology makes it possible for companies involved in producing helium gas to extract vast quantities from natural gas fields around the globe while also ensuring its purity before reaching customers. With careful management and innovative research into new extraction methods, we can expect even greater strides forward when it comes to harvesting this essential resource in years ahead.

Sources of helium

As the old saying goes, “You have to know where to look.” This is certainly true when it comes to finding helium gas. Helium can be obtained from a few different sources, each with their own pros and cons.

Helium gas extraction
© shutterstock/huyangshu

Naturally occurring sources of helium are often found in areas that contain natural gas deposits as well as underground stores of crude oil. These materials tend to release small amounts of helium into the atmosphere during production or extraction activities such as fracking and drilling. In order to capture these naturally-occurring gases, specialised equipment must be used; this includes vacuum pumps, separators, tanks, and filters. Additionally, some mining operations may also extract pockets of raw helium from subsurface reserves which require further refining at refinery processing plants before being suitable for use in industrial applications or research studies.

The other major source for obtaining helium is through commercial suppliers who obtain their supply either by extracting it directly from the air (called atmospheric collection) or purchasing it from producers who refine it from natural resources like those mentioned above. Large-scale producers typically employ advanced technologies such as cryogenic separation techniques to ensure high purity levels prior to sale on the market. The cost associated with purchasing helium from these vendors varies significantly depending on its grade and intended purpose but generally falls within an acceptable range for most consumers.

Understanding all of the available methods for obtaining helium helps researchers identify what will work best for their particular needs while keeping costs under control without sacrificing quality standards in any way. It’s important to remember that no matter how you get your hands on this useful element – whether through natural means or commercially – if handled properly, it can provide invaluable benefits both now and in the future.

Helium gas extraction methods

Helium gas is obtained through various extraction methods. Gas extraction involves the production of helium from natural gas sources such as methane, ethane, and propane. This process begins with the purification of raw natural gas to separate the different gases into their pure components. The purification process typically consists of cooling and pressurising the raw natural gas in order to remove any impurities or other unwanted by-products. After this step, a separator is used to isolate the desired helium component from the rest of the gaseous mixture.

© shutterstock/Kodda

The extracted helium must then be further purified before it can be used for industrial applications or medical purposes. This entails passing the extracted helium through a high-pressure liquefier which removes any remaining impurities that could contaminate its intended purpose. Once all contaminants have been removed, what remains is highly concentrated liquid helium which is ready for use as an industrial coolant or medical application such as MRI scans.

Gas extraction has become increasingly important over recent years due to increased demand for cryogenic materials (such as liquid nitrogen) and inert gases (e.g., argon). Helium has also gained prominence in scientific research-related fields due to its unique properties such as low boiling point, lack of colour and door, nonflammability, and resistance to chemical reactions compared to other elements. As a result, there has been an increase in investment towards efficient ways of extracting and refining helium resources so that they are readily available on demand when needed.

Obtaining helium gas requires careful processes involving multiple stages ranging from purifying raw natural gas through separating specific components up to producing highly concentrated liquids suitable for many uses across numerous industries including medicine, aeronautics, and manufacturing amongst others.

Steps in the purification process

Helium gas is obtained through a purification process, which involves separating the helium from other heavier gases. The first step of this process is to collect natural gas and isolate it in an enclosed container. Since helium has a much lower boiling point than other elements found in natural gas, cooling the mixture down can cause some components to liquefy or solidify while leaving the lighter gases like helium as a vapour.

The next step of purifying the helium involves using specialised techniques such as adsorption, absorption, and cryogenic distillation processes. Adsorption works by trapping molecules onto its surface with weak interactions, allowing only certain molecules to pass through depending on its size and shape. Absorption also works similarly but uses chemical bonding instead of physical forces for separation. Cryogenic distillation takes advantage of extreme temperatures to separate different types of molecules based on their boiling points.

© shutterstock/Kodda

Once these processes have been completed, the remaining light fraction that consists mostly of helium can be collected and further purified using additional techniques such as pressure swing adsorption (PSA) and membrane filtration systems that use high-density polymers membranes to filter out impurities like carbon dioxide. When these steps are complete, pure liquid or gaseous forms of helium can finally be produced for industrial applications.

Safety considerations are key to helium extraction

When it comes to obtaining helium gas, safety is paramount. Utmost caution must be taken when dealing with this highly flammable material, as any careless mistake can have catastrophic consequences. Exercising extreme vigilance and following established safety regulations are essential for ensuring the safe handling of helium gas.

To protect against potential risks while working with helium gas, a few key safety considerations should always be kept in mind:

  • Ensure that all personnel involved wear the appropriate protective equipment at all times;
  • Carry out a thorough risk assessment before attempting to obtain the gas; and
  • Acknowledge any possible environmental hazards associated with using hazardous materials such as helium.

The use of proper precautions and adherence to industry standards will help prevent incidents related to working with these potentially dangerous substances. It is imperative that everyone follow the necessary guidelines for safely handling helium gas so that no avoidable accidents occur during its extraction or storage process.

What are the strategies to convert helium gas?

Various conservation strategies have been developed to help manage the use of helium gas and promote sustainability practices. As a precious resource, it is essential that steps are taken to ensure its availability for future generations. Helium conservation initiatives involve reducing energy consumption and implementing effective gas conservation methods. Long-term solutions include improving storage techniques, developing alternative technologies, and utilising advanced recovery techniques to maximise efficiency in helium production processes.

The development of innovative new materials such as metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) can increase the capacity for storing larger amounts of helium at higher pressures compared with traditional vessels. This technology has already enabled significant advances in cryogenic applications across various industries including medical imaging and space exploration. In addition, research into renewable sources of energy could reduce the reliance on fossil fuel-based industrial processes which use large quantities of helium during extraction and refining operations.

Further advancements in innovation come from exploring options such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), where increased efficiency leads to reduced emissions and improved overall environmental performance while providing access to clean energy supplies. The potential benefits associated with these developments could bring long-term gains in terms of cost savings, improved safety standards, and enhanced sustainability measures throughout all stages of the supply chain network. With careful management and investment into suitable alternatives, we can ensure that this valuable resource remains available well into the future.

Transporting and storing helium

Helium is a valuable resource and must be carefully handled. Transported helium gas is stored in tanks that are heavily insulated to reduce evaporation loss. Tanks are chosen based on the type of application for which they will be used, such as industrial, medical, or research purposes. Transporting and storing helium gas requires special care, due to its low boiling temperature and lack of odour or colour.

When transporting helium, it is important to ensure that the tank does not leak any of the gas during transport. To prevent this from happening, all tanks must be filled with inert gas before being loaded onto delivery trucks. This helps protect the environment by preventing any escaped gas from entering the atmosphere. Additionally, when moving large amounts of helium at once, additional safety precautions may need to be taken to avoid potential explosions due to pressure build-up inside the tank.

© shutterstock/Aleksei Ignatov

Storage containers must also be kept properly sealed while they contain helium so that none escapes during storage. It is also important to check regularly for leaks as even small losses can add up over time and result in significant financial losses. Helium tanks should also be inspected periodically for signs of corrosion or damage that could lead to leakage if left unchecked. By taking these extra steps when transporting and storing helium gas, users can maximise their return on investment and keep their operations running safely and efficiently for years to come.

Health effects of exposure to helium gas

Helium’s lightness has made it an important component of many industrial processes, but exposure to the gas also carries certain health risks. Although helium is non-toxic, its inhalation by humans can cause breathing difficulties in some cases. Long-term exposure to high concentrations of helium gas may lead to further health issues such as:

  • Eye irritation;
  • Red eyes;
  • Burning sensation;
  • Watery eyes;
  • Breathing problems;
  • Coughing;
  • Wheezing;
  • Shortness of breath; and
  • Nausea and headaches.

These effects are generally short-lived, but they may indicate more severe underlying conditions if experienced over long periods of time. Furthermore, people with pre-existing respiratory conditions should avoid inhaling helium due to the increased risk of experiencing adverse symptoms. Doctors recommend limiting any exposure to the minimum necessary amount for safety purposes.

While helium is safe when used correctly and according to instructions, overexposure could put users at risk for certain health complications.

Alternative gases to helium

Argon is an alternative gas to helium, which has been used in a variety of applications. It can be found naturally occurring in the Earth’s atmosphere at concentrations between 0.934% and 1.03%. Argon is non-toxic and not flammable, making it notably safe for use around humans or sensitive equipment; its main industrial uses are in welding arcs, lightbulbs, lasers, and cryogenic applications.

In addition to argon, sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) is another popular choice where insulation from electromagnetic fields is required due to its high electronegativity. Its primary application is as an insulator within electrical switches.

Similar properties make xenon useful when higher boiling points are needed than other gases such as nitrogen can offer.

Nitrous oxide also offers distinct advantages that have allowed it widespread popularity among dentists and medical practitioners who require rapid but brief sedation without respiration suppression or strong allergic reactions; recreational parties may occasionally use it for similar effects.

Finally, neon has seen usage in lighting displays and advertising signage since 1910 although more recently LED technology has become commonplace instead. Neon remains highly visible despite having low energy requirements while providing bright colours that were hard to replicate with prior technologies.

What is the global market for helium gas?

It is widely accepted that helium gas is a finite resource and requires careful management to ensure its continued availability. To better understand the global market for helium gas, it is important to consider factors such as demand, price, and overall market size.

The current state of the global helium gas market indicates that there is an ever-growing demand for this product due to its use in many industries such as health care, aerospace, and electronics manufacturing. The high demand has resulted in steady prices throughout recent years despite some fluctuations within certain regions or countries. Furthermore, the large size of the global helium gas market has enabled suppliers to meet these demands while maintaining their bottom line.

Various research studies conducted over the past decade have shown that the demand for helium gas continues to grow significantly each year across all major markets worldwide. This trend is expected to continue into the foreseeable future with no sign of slowing down anytime soon. Additionally, researchers predict that the overall size of this market will increase exponentially in coming years due to advancements in technologies related to medical imaging, MRI scanners, and other similar products which require large amounts of this precious element.

© shutterstock/Oleksiy Mark

As a result of these trends, it can be concluded that even though helium gas may not be considered renewable, it does remain abundant enough for businesses and individuals alike who rely on it heavily every day. Therefore, proper management should be implemented by industry leaders so that everyone can benefit from access to this vital resource now and well into the future.

Recent advances in technology

Recent advances in technology have enabled the extraction of helium gas from sources around the world. As a result, more reliable methods for obtaining helium have been developed. Specialised equipment is used to safely capture and store helium, allowing access to this precious resource. The development of new technologies has also made it possible to extract helium from unconventional sources such as natural gas deposits and oil wells. This makes it much easier to obtain sufficient quantities of helium for industrial use.

Technology has also allowed for greater efficiency when extracting and processing helium once it is obtained. Automated systems can now be employed that reduce labour costs while increasing safety and accuracy during production processes. Additionally, advanced filtration techniques help increase purity standards so that only high-quality grade helium is produced each time. These measures make it possible to produce larger quantities of pure helium with fewer resources than ever before.

In spite of recent advances in technology, there are still challenges associated with capturing enough usable quantities of helium from various sources across the globe. Therefore, continued research into better ways to extract and process this unique element will remain critical if we hope to secure an adequate supply for future generations.

Socio-environmental impacts

In the wake of recent advances in technology, it is important to consider how this progress affects our ecosystem. The socio-environmental impacts of helium gas extraction provide a clear example of how resource scarcity can have both social and environmental consequences.

Because helium’s chemical properties make it almost impossible to collect from Earth’s atmosphere, nearly all production comes through underground reserves that are quickly depleting. This has led to rising prices and shortages across many industries. For instance, researchers at Harvard University recently experienced severe delays when attempting to acquire enough helium for their scientific experiments – illustrating the impact of human activity on resources like helium.

Not only does this depletion of natural resources cause economic instability but also creates ecological effects that can be damaging or even irreversible. Helium mining often releases toxic gases into the air and groundwater and disturbs wildlife habitats in areas where extraction occurs. Additionally, some areas with significant concentrations of underground helium deposits rely heavily on these sources for income; therefore, any disruption could potentially lead to major losses for local economies.

These examples demonstrate why it is imperative to carefully consider the short and long-term socio-environmental implications before engaging in activities such as helium gas extraction. We must strive for sustainable practices that protect our environment and recognise the potential impacts on communities that depend upon these resources for survival and development.

The future outlook for helium gas

The future outlook for helium gas is subject to a number of factors, including projected demand and the ability of producers to meet that demand. In terms of the supply chain, cost analysis will be an important factor in determining whether or not production can remain profitable. Furthermore, any changes in environmental regulations may affect how companies are able to source their inputs.

In addition to these tangible concerns, there may also be a need for further research into alternative sources of helium gas. As the demand increases with time, current supplies may become insufficient and new methods must be employed if shortages are to be avoided. It is likely that existing technologies such as solar-powered pumps could play a role in this search for alternatives.

Moving forward, it appears that the provision of helium gas will depend on both economic considerations and technological advancements. To ensure reliable availability at reasonable prices over the long term, proactive steps should be taken now by industry stakeholders as well as governments around the world. Understanding global demand helps us understand just how precious this resource is and why conservation measures must be taken seriously.

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