How Much Helium Is Left In The World, Will We Run Out, & What Happens If We Do?

In the guide below, we discuss the world’s helium resources.

We outline things such as how much helium is left in the world, whether we might run out, what happens if we do, and other relevant information.

 

Summary – The World’s Helium Resources

Importance, & Uses Across Society

We list a range of uses for helium across society that make it an important resource

 

Proven Reserves Of Helium Left In The World

Different estimates put the amount of helium reserves on Earth in the tens of billions to hundreds of billions of cubic meters.

The US has the most of all countries.

 

Countries That Produce The Most Helium

The US, Qatar and only a few other countries produce most of the world’s helium.

 

How Much Helium We Use Each Year

On a global scale, various reports put global helium consumption at around 6 to 8 billion cubic feet a year.

 

Is There A Helium Shortage?

Helium shortages can be be cyclical (we list some factors below that can push helium towards a shortage scenario), but there currently isn’t a shortage.

 

Will We Run Out Of Helium, & If So, When?

Different estimates indicate we might have between 20 to 117 years worth of helium resources left.

However, there can be various reasons why we might not run out of helium soon, and also why the supply might be augmented/increased or extended.

 

What Happens If We Run Out Of Helium?

The closer we get to running out of any resource, the more our ability to use it for it’s key uses might be affected, and other factors like price and affordability can be affected.

 

Is Helium Renewable?

Technically it’s not because resources are finite.

 

Using Helium More Sustainably

We mention how helium might be used more sustainably, or how it might be conserved in the guide below.

 

Firstly, What Do We Use Helium For, & What Makes It Important In Society?

Helium is used as a gas or liquid for several important uses across society.

Some of the important uses for helium across society include but aren’t limited to:

For welding (as a shielding gas for example)

For MRI machines and scanners (liquid helium is used to cool the superconducting magnets)

In medicine, for patients that might have issues to do with the lungs or heart for example – helium can be combined with oxygen for respiratory and airway issues

As a coolant for fusion power plants (such as for nuclear fission reactors and conceptual fusion power plant designs)

For diving mixtures

For party balloons (physicstoday.scitation.org notes that party balloons make up ‘10% or more of total helium use’)

 

In terms of helium usage share by industry, physicstoday.scitation.org notes:

The largest use by far [for helium] in the US (30%) is for health care, mainly magnetic resonance imaging. Analytical and laboratory applications account for 17%, and engineering and scientific applications 6%

 

How Much Helium Is Left In The World? – Proven Reserves Of Helium

The amount of helium reserves left in the world varies by year.

It’s worth noting that in the estimates provided below, 1169 feet converts to 356 meters.

The US tops the list of the countries with the most reserves.

 

Total – Global

The total estimate of global reserves of helium in 2018 [was] 51.9 billion cubic metres (chromatographyonline.com)

 

There’s far more [helium available] worldwide [than in the US alone] … In 2014 … [it was] estimated that there [was about] 1,169 billion cubic feet of helium reserves left on Earth … (wired.com)

 

Countries With Highest Reserves

[Of all countries in the world in 2021 the US has the highest reserves in million cubic meters at 8500 (8.5 billion cubic meters), with Algeria in second (1.8 billion) and Russia third (1.7 billion] (statista.com)

 

Countries That Produce The Most Helium

The US leads all countries for helium production, with Qatar being another major producer.

 

‘With an output of 68 million cubic meters last year, the US is the world’s largest helium producer’ (physicstoday.scitation.org)

 

The United States, Qatar, and only a few other countries are producing the entire global supply of helium (aljazeera.com)

 

How Much Helium Do We Use?

Per Year – Globally

[We use about] 8 billion cubic feet [of helium] every year (wired.com)

 

Global demand is estimated to be around 6 billion cubic feet (Bcf) per annum with the compound annual global growth rate (CAGR) at some 3% (helium-one.com)

 

Per Year – In The US

Domestic consumption [was recently] estimated to be … about 40 million cubic meters (physicstoday.scitation.org)

 

Is There A Helium Shortage?

Is There A Shortage?

[There isn’t a] global helium shortage … (wired.com)

 

Factors That Can Periodically Impact Whether There Is A Shortage Or Not

– Demand for helium (for the various uses of helium across society)

– physicstoday.scitation.org also notes that ‘… rationing to the … refiners that draw from the federal helium reserve [and whether or not countries like Qatar cut supply or not]’ can impact supply

 

As factors like these (and other factors) change, we can alternate between periods of adequate supplies, and inadequate supplies to meet demand (i.e. shortages)

 

Will We Run Out Of Helium? – If So, When?

There’s different estimates for how many year of helium we have left, but it seems unlikely we will run out of helium soon for various reasons.

 

How Many Years Worth Of Helium We Have Left

– Globally

[Based on 2014 helium reserves numbers …]  That’s enough for about 117 more years [before we run out] (wired.com)

 

We may run out of helium within 25-30 years because it’s being consumed so freely (thoughtco.com)

 

– United States

In the United States [there’s] at least 20 years of known supplies that are easily, readily available (wired.com)

 

Factors That Have Contributed To Running Out Of Helium Sooner

[In the US specifically] the price of helium [did not] reflect it’s value [in the past. [The] National Helium Reserve [holds] most of the world’s supply of helium … [and was] mandated to sell off it’s stockpile regardless of price. [In 2013 though, the law which mandated this was re-visited, and a bill was passed to maintain helium reserves] (thoughtco.com

 

Reasons Why We May Not Run Out Of Helium Anytime Soon

We may not run out of helium soon for a few reasons:

– Newly Discovered Pockets Of Helium In The Future

Apart from the existing proven reserves of helium, new pockets of helium may be discovered.

wired.com notes that this was the case in Tanzania recently, where a new pocket of helium was found, and there was ‘… 54 billion cubic feet [of it but …] likely much more. That’s just under seven times the annual global demand’

 

thoughtco.com also mentions that helium can be found in some groundwater sources, where there is ongoing decay of natural uranium and other radioisotopes (although money and technology would be required to access it. In the very distant future, it’s also possible we may find a way to mine the element from the solar system

 

– Helium Can Be Extracted From Natural Gas, And There Hasn’t Always Been An Incentive To Do So In The Past

From wired.com:

‘Most of the world’s helium comes from natural gas, where it can exist in very small quantities [of around] … 0.1 percent [to] 3 percent helium … but worldwide helium is about a thousand times less lucrative than gas [so companies are not incentvized to sell extracted helium unless the price of helium goes up]. [A country like Qatar that mines so much natural gas might be able to provide] a decent percentage of the world’s demand [for helium] as an afterthought’

 

– New Plants That Add To The Helium Supply

New and expanded liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants … [and] all-new Amur natural gas processing and helium production [facilities in different parts of the world can add to supply, and even outstrip demand] (physicstoday.scitation.org)

 

What Happens If We Run Out Of Helium?

Running out of any resource may impact things such as:

– The availability of that resource for the key things we use it for across society

– The price of that resource as it becomes more scarce, and consequently, the affordability of the things we use that resource for 

 

Is Helium A Renewable Resource?

Technically, helium isn’t a renewable resource because there are finite supplies of helium, and helium does not naturally replenish at a rate that outpaces the rate we consume helium at 

 

[Helium is produced by] the radioactive decay of rock … over the span of hundreds of millions of years] (thoughtco.com)

 

… natural pockets [of helium in the Earth’s crust are] millions or billions of years old (wired.com)

 

Potential Ways To Use Helium More Sustainably

There might be ways to conserve the helium we currently use across society, such as re-use and recycling of helium.

 

From wired.com: ‘… research labs, for instance, have developed ways of catching and recycling helium instead of letting it escape through cracks in (or just the outlet of) their experiments’

 

From physicstoday.scitation.org: ‘… some academic researchers [can] install liquefiers to recycle helium that boils off from their instruments’

 

 

Sources

1. https://www.wired.com/2016/06/dire-helium-shortage-vastly-inflated/

2. https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.2.20200605a/full/

3. https://www.thoughtco.com/will-we-run-out-of-helium-3975959

4. https://www.chromatographyonline.com/view/truth-about-global-helium-shortage

5. https://www.statista.com/statistics/925805/helium-reserves-worldwide-by-country/

6. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/7/26/helium-production-in-the-world

7. https://www.helium-one.com/helium-market/

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