Balloon goes up on Helium prices...

09 May 2013
Posted by Mark Peplow.

The fate of one of the world's main sources of helium is about to be decided - and prices are set to soar sky high. That could hit universities and hospitals where liquid helium is used to cool superconducting magnets in high-tech equipment such as MRI scanners. Helium is a trace component in natural gas, and extraction at more than a dozen sites around the world feeds a global demand of 170 million m3 each year. But roughly one-third of that comes from a geological stockpile in Amarillo, Texas - the US Federal Helium Reserve - which is slated to close later this year. Without enough production capacity elsewhere in the world to meet current needs, the US Congress is now considering legislation that would keep federal helium flowing for another few years. But even if the reserve does get a new lease of life, its helium would be sold at much higher prices than before. That could hike the average cost of helium by 30% next year, experts say.

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