In a free market, supply follows demand. But in the helium market, regulations set price and production, and with good reason. Helium gas—essential for MRIs, rockets, and space telescopes—is a limited resource. Radioactive elements in Earth's crust emit helium, which gets trapped in natural-gas fields, and we then extract it—or let it escape as we burn the gas. Until recently, the U.S. made most of the world's refined helium. Now it's a global game. Here's a history of the price, world production, and rising power of helium.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this graphic mislabeled the values on the horizontal scale, including the location of the zero point. The horizontal axis range should read -2 to 6 billion cubic feet, not 0 to 4 billion cubic feet.
This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of Popular Science. See more stories from the magazine here.
Somebody should tell PopSci that hot air balloons don't use helium. *Facepalm*
I've been noticing a trend with helium/helium balloon related articles. There always appears to be a front page image of a group of hot-air balloons tied to the article. Hot-air balloons, however, do not use helium. As their name implies, they use heated air. The air is heated by combustion of propane in most cases. No helium involved. Please stop doing this, it makes your staff seem slightly unknowledgeable.
(Many balloon pilots do use small 'Pilot's Balloons', small helium filled party balloons, prior to launch to help gauge wind speed and direction at the launch site)
ROFL, thank you PoPSCi for your continuous writing style and illustrations!
Your articles are so amusing and sometimes informative. LoL
It is interesting to note, it seems when an article is no longer appears appreciated, it is then SPAM arrives and shows it ugly head to PoPSCI articles.
This give the appearance that the spam is a planned event by PoPSCI.
Fracking should make production of helium gas more economical. Helium accumulates in natural gas formations because H2 is a very stable molecule that does not react with other elements. If there is market demand for helium then natural gas producers will respond with increased supply.