In 1996, the United States privatized the National Helium Reserve, selling off shares of the gas on the cheap. This, of course, quickly depleted what was the world’s largest supply of natural helium. As such, we are threatened with a helium shortage but, fortunately, researchers claim to have discovered a new field of helium in Tanzania which could help to greatly restore much of the global reserves.
According to researchers at Oxford University and Durham University—who collaborated on the project with private Norwegian helium exploration company Helium One—they had found this store of helium using a new and experimental method. Furthermore, the group will explain this method and present its findings at the Goldschmidt Geochemical Conference, Tuesday, in Yokohama, Japan.
“This is a game changer for the future security of society’s helium needs and similar finds in the future may not be far away,” explains Chris Ballentine, who is a professor in the department of earth sciences at the University of Oxford.
In the research they present, the researchers indicate that volcanic activity in rifts nearby Tasmania provide enough heat to release helium which has accumulated in ancient rocks still buried in the Earth’s crust. More importantly, perhaps, they believe more than a trillion liters of helium may lie deep down there.
With an atomic number of 2, helium is, of course, one of the most abundant elements in the whole universe, but it is not as common on Earth. Since we cannot artificially produce it the only way to acquire it is to extract it from natural gas traps, which are actually ancient uranium decays. Unfortunately, it takes billions of years for the most prevalent uranium isotope to decay, which forms helium in the process. That is far too long, of course, for us to wait for more the planet to produce more helium.
And so, of course, this discovery has been quite a remarkable one indeed. Now, of course, scientist hope to not only find smart ways to use this helium but also to continue developing more methods of searching for the important natural gas.
University of Oxford Earth Sciences professor, Dr. Pete Barry, comments, “We can apply this same strategy to other parts of the world with a similar geological history to find new helium resources. Excitingly, we have linked the importance of volcanic activity for helium release with the presence of potential trapping structures and this study represents another step towards creating a viable model for helium exploration. This is badly needed given the current demand for helium.”