Not only is helium one of the most abundant elements in the universe, it’s also one of the most flexible, finding practical applications far beyond filling balloons and blimps. With such varied uses comes increased demand worldwide. At Rocky Mountain Air, we produce all sizes, purities, and product use for any environment you have—be it your child’s first birthday party, your facility’s MRI machine, or your technologically advanced manufacturing process. We’ll examine several of the more interesting (and perhaps lesser known) uses to see why it’s so important for suppliers to continue to work to deliver this precious commodity.
1. Heliox mixtures in respiratory treatments for asthma, bronchitis and other lung deficiencies
By combining helium and oxygen, doctors produce a heliox gas mixture (roughly 79% helium and 21% oxygen), useful for the effective treatment of respiratory ailments like asthma and emphysema. This works by lowering overall airflow resistance. For this reason, heliox is also used in deep sea diving.
2. MRI magnets
The super powerful magnets used to produce MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) have to be cooled in order to consistently and accurately do their jobs of providing extremely detailed images of internal body structures. With its extremely low boiling point, helium gas is the first choice of hospitals to perform that crucial task.
3. High speed Internet and Cable TV
The high-speed Internet service everyone has grown to love wouldn’t be possible without helium. The fiber optic cables that carry Internet and cable TV services have to be manufactured in a pure helium atmosphere in order to ensure air bubbles don’t get trapped inside the cables.
4. Mobile phone, computer and tablet chips
One of the more prevalent uses of helium comes in the production of semiconductor chips. Phones, TVs, computers, tablets—if a device contains a chip, it wouldn’t be possible without the helium used at different stages in the production process.
5. Computer hard drives
Computer hard drives featuring dramatically improved storage capacities are also reliant on helium. Helium filled hard drives are starting to replace air filled hard drives, primarily because they offer 50% higher storage capacity with 23% lower operating power. It’s also estimated that a single tank of helium gas can produce 10,000 hard drives.
6. Cleaning rocket fuel tanks
Although not used directly as rocket fuel, helium is used to clean the fuel tanks of the liquid hydrogen and oxygen that are used as fuel. Knowing that helium is inert allows the space program to trust that it won’t react or combust with any oxygen that happens to remain in the tank.
Helium-ion microscopes allow scientists to explore in much greater detail than traditional scanning electron microscopes because of their naturally higher resolution.
Because it can diffuse quickly, helium is the gas of choice for effecting the near instantaneous deployment of airbags in cars.
9. Detecting leaks, such as in the hull of a ship
Helium is famous for its capacity to detect leaks in many different mediums. Whether it’s the hull of a ship, the air conditioning line of a car or high-pressure systems like vacuums, helium’s ability to diffuse through solids three times faster than air allows it to effectively identify possible leaks.
10. Shielding in welding
When used as a shielding gas in welding, helium promotes a higher heat transfer for a more consistent weld, ultimately yielding a higher work speed. Better productivity is something companies always want to embrace.
In the 10 use cases we’ve highlighted here, it’s clear helium is as versatile as it is valuable. So, how does supply keep up with demand? The United States produces about 75% of the world’s helium, with more than 40% of the helium used annually by the US found in the Federal Helium Reserve in Amarillo, Texas. The rest of the world’s supply comes from Qatar.
Rocky Mountain Air is your local provider of helium, no matter your use. We offer cylinder and liquid cylinder containers large enough to cool a DIY particle collider or an MRI magnet, or small enough to fill balloons at a party. It’s all part of our commitment to deliver Flawless Dependability for our valued customers.