A team of researchers from the University of Oxford together with their colleagues from Durham scientific center announced the discovery of a helium deposit in Rift Valley, Tanzania.
The reserves are estimated to have a volume of 54 billion cubic feet. In comparison, the annual global consumption of helium is 8 billion cubic feet.
The Tanzanian Helium Deposit
The Rift Valley contains volcanoes and rock formations that could foster gas. The scientists performed simulations based on the local seismic activity. They discovered that the lava heat could be sufficient to release the helium and store it in deposits near the surface.
The exploitation of the deposits is conditioned by their distance to the volcano. Being too close will compromise the quality of the gas composition, and it will make it very difficult to extract.
However, the new method used by the scientists, if proven to be correct, will be employed in the future to discover other helium deposits which may turn out to be easier to exploit.
The researchers are further trying to locate the deposits accurately, in the hope that the Helium One exploration firm will be able to extract the natural resource.
The Economic Debate over Helium
Some experts say that there is no helium crisis on our planet. The gas can be easily obtained from decaying uranium, a method that is not as costly as an underground extraction would be.
Helium can also be extracted from the natural gas mix through the process of condensation. This approach has also failed to prove its economic justification.
The noble gas is currently used in medicine and space missions. The most frequent applications for helium are found in the fields of cryogenics, pressuring and purging, welding and controlled atmospheres.
In medicine, helium is used in magnetic resonance imaging as a cooler for the device’s superconductive magnets.
In space industry, the gas is used to clean the engines, to reduce the temperature inside the satellite rooms, and to pressurize rockets. Helium is used to create rocket fuel, and it participates in hydrogen and oxygen condensing reactions.
In the 2000s, the US Congress lowered the prices for helium in order to finish the national stockpile by 2015. The decision is contested by experts such as Robert Coleman Richardson, who argues that the prices would need to be raised again in order to avoid an excessive waste.
Helium is rare on Earth but abundant in space, being one of the major resulting gasses after the Big Bang. On our planet, most of the helium is produced by radioactive decay.
The largest helium deposit discovered so far is in South Pars / North Dome Gas-Condensate field owned by Qatar and Iran.
Image Source: Pixabay