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posted by martyb on Thursday April 18 2019, @07:30PM   Printer-friendly
from the imagine-Alvin,-Theodore,-and-Simon-as-tenors dept.

Shortages of liquid helium are beginning to cause anxiety for researchers, as the third major supply constraint since 2006 is affecting everyone from medical laboratories to party supply stores due to higher prices and rationing from vendors. Despite helium being the second most abundant element in the universe, there are only 14 liquid helium production facilities in the world--with around 75% of that consumed worldwide produced in Ras Laffan Industrial City in Qatar, an ExxonMobil facility in Wyoming, and facilities owned by the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM), according to GasWorld.

With the privatization of the helium market--a process that started in 1996--coming to fruition in 2020, private industry has played a larger role in ensuring helium supply in the US.

With the ExxonMobil facility partially shutting down for maintenance this summer, the helium market is going to be squeezed. Quantum computers use a different isotope of helium (Helium-3), the distribution of which is still controlled by the government, which should head off any issues.

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Massive Reserve of Helium Found by Minnesota Exploratory Drill 5 comments

Massive Reserve of Helium Found by Minnesota Exploratory Drill, Likely the Biggest Find Ever in North America:

A new find of underground helium in Minnesota could turn out to be one of the largest in the world, Minneapolis's WCCO-TV reported Thursday. The drill site, just outside Babbitt in the northeastern part of the state, took about a month from initially breaking ground to get to a depth of 2,200 feet.

What it found there, Pulsar Helium CEO Thomas Abraham-James called "a dream." "There was a lot of screaming, a lot of hugging and high fives. It's nice to know the efforts all worked out and we pulled it off," Abraham-James told WCCO.

He said that the concentration of helium sampled was 12.4 percent — about 30 times what the outlet referred to as "the industry standard," and higher even than the company had forecast. "12.4% is just a dream," the CEO told the outlet. "It's perfect."

Further analysis remains to be done, of course, but the finding confirmed work completed in 2011 that indicated the presence of helium deep under the surface, the Duluth News Tribune reported.

Companies generally pursue helium concentrations above 0.3 percent that they can locate, the outlet noted. "So now the real hard begins to find out what is it truly that we have and the size of the prize," Abraham-James told the News Tribune.

Studying the size of the find and the feasibility of a full-sized mining operation could take up to a year, the company told WCCO. The Topez Project, as the drill site is called, was initially planned to go to a depth of 2,250 feet, but had to stop earlier than expected because of "abnormally warm temperatures and looming road weight restrictions," according to the paper.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 18 2019, @09:21PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 18 2019, @09:21PM (#831882)

    Quantum computing... you never really know.

  • (Score: 2) by deimtee on Friday April 19 2019, @05:55AM

    by deimtee (3272) on Friday April 19 2019, @05:55AM (#832053) Journal

    It's not that the supply is too short, it's that the price is too low. Let the free market run until idiots stop doing balloon drops etc.
    If quantum computing is worth doing, it can out-compete a kids birthday party when buying helium.

    If you cough while drinking cheap red wine it really cleans out your sinuses.