Party City, the brick-and-mortar retailer that's a one-stop-shop for single-use, brightly-colored plastic crap and other festive decorations, is closing 45 of its 900 stores across the country. Store profits are down due to the shortage of helium on the planet; Party City historically makes big money from filling balloons. From CNN:
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The Earth holds pockets of helium buried under rock, but it's notoriously hard to capture because it, well, floats. When drilling or fracking for natural gas, energy companies capture some helium and sell it. But helium makes up a tiny percentage of the gasses trapped under rock formations.
Over the past few years, some drillers have claimed to find troves of helium buried underground, but those haven't always panned out. Party City said it really started feeling the pinch in August 2018...
The good news for Party City is it signed an agreement with a new helium supplier. Party City believes the new supplier can help it return its balloon business back to normal starting in the summer, and it hopes the supplies will last for the next two-and-a-half years...
(Party City CEO) Harrison cautioned, however, that the additional helium wasn't a sure thing. Party City's new supplier might believe it is sitting on a lot of helium, but it can't know for sure until it bottles and sells it.
We've had a global shortage of helium for years now, but thanks to an aggressive search in Tanzania, scientists have just discovered 54 billion cubic feet of the gas, an amount that can last for several years. Scientists are calling this new approach to helium exploration a "game changer," according to the AP.
The discovery in Tanzania is the result of a new exploration approach for the precious gas that is essential to spacecraft, MRI scanners, nuclear energy, according to the Oxford University statement. Helium also fills party balloons.
This is the first time helium has been found intentionally, said the statement. Until now, the gas has been found in small amounts accidentally during oil and gas drilling.
Scientists are optimistic that they'll now be able to find more helium in other parts of the world using the same search methods. Read the full story here. Read the rest
Helium is the second most abundant element in the entire Universe, but we are running out of helium here on Earth. That's a bad thing.
Even if auctioning eventually solves the pricing problem, it will never change the fact that helium is not a renewable resource. The National Reserve is expected to be depleted by 2020, and even if it isn’t, under the current law it will have to shut down operations in 2021. In the meantime, the world is scrambling to find alternative coolants, levitators, and sources of helium.
“By the end of the decade,” USGS writes in its 2015 report on helium, “international helium extraction facilities are likely to become the main source of supply for world helium users. Expansions to facilities have been completed as planned in Algeria and Qatar.” China also plans on mining helium-3, which is currently mostly manufactured, off the moon.
Chinese robot helium miners on the Moon - yes, please! Read the rest
Photo by Crystl, via Flickr (CC, some rights reserved)
Physicist Robert Richardson from Cornell University is warning against plans implemented via the Helium Privatization Act to sell off our National Helium Reserve by 2013.
Although cryogenic applications in magnetic resonance imaging, semiconductor processing and basic research consume the largest portion of the helium market presently, this light, inert gas has many other uses. NASA uses it in the pressurizing and purging of its rocket engines while civilian industries use approximately 13 million scm annually in various welding applications. By the time one accounts for helium's role in atmospheric control and leak detection as well as its obvious use as a lifting gas, it is clear that the industry is an important part of the U.S. economy.
Helium is a non-renewable material here on earth. About 80% of global reserves are in the American Southwest, created as a by-product of refining natural gas. Dr. Richardson recommends raising prices drastically, so a helium balloon would run around $100, to reflect the value of the gas inside.
World helium reserves are running out, Nobel laureate claims [telegraph.co.uk] Read the rest