Helium is used to cool magnets in MRI machines.
When we think of helium, perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is birthday balloons, but the applications for this gas go much deeper. And the demand for helium is increasing year over year.
In 2023, the Helium Market is projected to be $15.73 billion, per GlobeNewswire.
Image Source: helium-one.com
Helium is a very important gas with a wide range of industrial applications. Here are some of the most common industrial applications for helium:
- Welding: Helium is used as a shielding gas in welding applications. It’s an inert gas, which means that it doesn’t react with other elements, making it ideal for welding. Helium is often used in welding applications for materials such as aluminum and stainless steel.
- Cooling: Helium is used as a cooling agent in a variety of industrial applications. It’s often used to cool magnets in MRI machines, as well as in nuclear reactors to cool the fuel rods.
- Leak detection: Helium is often used as a tracer gas for leak detection in a variety of industries, including aerospace, automotive, and HVAC. Helium is ideal for leak detection because it’s a very light gas, and it can easily escape from even the smallest leaks.
- Balloons: Helium is commonly used to fill balloons for parties and celebrations. While this may not seem like an industrial application, it’s actually a significant use of helium.
- Semiconductor manufacturing: Helium is used in the manufacturing of semiconductors, where it’s used to cool equipment and remove impurities from the manufacturing process.
- Gas chromatography: Helium is used as a carrier gas in gas chromatography, a technique used to separate and analyze complex mixtures of chemicals.
- Deep-sea diving: Helium is sometimes used in deep-sea diving applications, as it’s less dense than air and can help prevent decompression sickness.
- Respiratory support: Helium is lighter than air, and as such, it can be mixed with oxygen to create a breathable gas that is easier for elderly patients with respiratory problems to inhale. Heliox, as the mixture is called, can be used to treat conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and pneumonia.
- Cryotherapy: Helium can be used in cryotherapy, a treatment that involves exposing the body to extremely low temperatures for short periods of time. Cryotherapy has been used to treat a variety of conditions, including joint pain, inflammation, and skin conditions. It has also been shown to have potential benefits for improving muscle function and reducing the risk of falls in elderly individuals.
It’s worth noting that while Helium has potential applications in medical science, its availability is limited and it can be expensive to obtain. As such, its use in medical settings is typically reserved for cases where other treatment options have been exhausted or are not effective.
Helium is an incredibly versatile gas with a wide range of industrial applications. Its unique properties make it an essential component in many industrial processes.
How is Helium Extracted?
Helium is typically mined through the extraction of natural gas. Helium is a byproduct of the natural gas production process, and it is found in the Earth’s crust at a concentration of about 0.05%.
The process of mining Helium begins with drilling for natural gas, which contains Helium in small amounts. Once the natural gas is extracted from the ground, it is sent to a processing plant where it is separated from other gases, including Helium.
The natural gas is cooled to a very low temperature, which causes the Helium to separate and become a gas. The Helium is then purified and compressed into containers for transport and storage.
In some cases, Helium can also be extracted from certain types of rocks, such as radioactive rocks, which emit Helium as a byproduct of their decay. However, this process is much more complex and expensive compared to extracting Helium from natural gas.
Top 5 Helium Companies
Here are the top 5 companies producing helium globally:
- RasGas (Qatar) – RasGas is a Qatari company that produces and exports liquefied natural gas (LNG) and helium. It is one of the largest helium producers in the world.
- Air Products and Chemicals (USA) – Air Products and Chemicals is an American company that produces and supplies gases including helium, hydrogen, and nitrogen. It is one of the largest industrial gas companies in the world.
- ExxonMobil (USA) – ExxonMobil is an American multinational oil and gas company that produces and exports helium. It is one of the largest producers of helium in the world.
- Gazprom (Russia) – Gazprom is a Russian company that produces and exports natural gas and helium. It is one of the largest natural gas producers in the world and also produces significant amounts of helium. Gazprom is currently under sanctions due to the war in Ukraine.
- Linde plc (Germany) – Linde plc is a multinational industrial gas company that produces and supplies gases including helium, hydrogen, and nitrogen. It is one of the largest industrial gas companies in the world and a significant producer of helium.