Helium is an abundant and valuable element that has many uses. It may be most known for party balloons, but that’s only scratching the surface. From airbags and aircraft to sophisticated medical equipment, helium is present in more places than you may realize.
Keep reading to learn more about the everyday commercial uses of helium and its impact on the modern world.
How Is Helium Useful and What Is It, Anyway?
Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe. It’s colorless, odorless, and lighter than air. It’s produced from natural gas and has the lowest boiling point and melting point out of any element on the periodic table. Even at incredibly low temperatures, it can remain liquid, solidifying only under extreme pressure. Helium is also useful for its low density, inertness, low solubility, and thermal conductivity. Technologies like superconducting materials make great use of helium.
Most helium in the universe is in the stars. What little helium there is on the Earth can be found inside natural gas deposits and radioactive decay. With only 14 helium refineries worldwide, our helium supply is rapidly shrinking. Regardless, our dependence on helium is only increasing. Here are a few popular commercial uses of helium around the world:
Large Hadron Collider
The Large Hadron Collider is the single most significant use for helium. The machine is the largest and highest-energy particle collider in the world. Scientists use the Large Hadron Collider to investigate the structure of space and time and answer long-standing questions about physics.
The machine requires vast amounts of superfluid helium to operate. As part of an extensive three-stage process, the Large Hadron Collider consumes nearly 100 tons of cooled helium (at -456.34 degrees Fahrenheit) to keep the magnets used to shoot particles from overheating.
Rocket Fuel Tanks
All space shuttle missions use liquid hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel. Engineers use helium to clean out the tanks once they’re empty. Because helium is inert (meaning the element doesn’t react with other substances), there’s no risk that it will freeze the pipes or combust with oxygen traces.
Commercial Uses of Helium in Manufacturing
Arc Welding Shields
Welders use helium as a shielding gas. The substance is nonreactive and yields consistent welds at a high heat transfer. Helium combined with argon gas can be tweaked based on the shape of the weld, the required work speed, and the heat needed.
Helium’s quick diffusion makes it the ideal choice for airbag deployment.
Pebble-Bed reactors are high-temperature reactors that produce heat by using turbines to pass helium through the uranium core. These next-generation reactors are considered more affordable and safer than traditional facilities.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Doctors need helium to perform magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. MRIs use powerful magnets to provide detailed images of the body. Helium’s low boiling point makes it the best choice to cool off the magnet and ensure continued operation.
Physicians combine helium with oxygen to treat respiratory conditions like emphysema and asthma. Helium is helpful during treatment because the combination reaches the lungs much quicker than oxygen alone.
Commercial Uses of Helium in Technology
Fiber Optic Cables
The fiber optic cables that provide internet access to homes and businesses are created inside a helium-rich atmosphere to prevent air bubbles from getting trapped inside the cable.
Computers, tablets, smartphones, and other modern electronics feature a semiconductor chip. These small devices contain a web of circuits that transfer electrical currents through a device to help with specific functions.
Helium is heavily involved in the semiconductor manufacturing process. The element is used as a leak conductor, cooling agent, diluent gas in plasma etching, and carrier gas for deposition. Helium has had a hand in creating nearly every electronic device you have.
Helium-filled hard drives are faster, lighter, and cooler than traditional air-filled equipment. One helium tank can make over 10,000 hard drives, and the final product is more reliable and energy-efficient than other solutions. The advantages of helium-based hard drives include:
- Seven times lighter than air
- Runs at cooler temperatures
- Keeps out humidity
- Increased data storage capacity
- Reduced power draw
Secure High-Quality Gas With Oxygen Service Company
You understand the advantages of helium. But where do you find a reliable supply? Oxygen Service Company offers a complete line of industrial gases and gas mixtures for many industries. We provide you with an uninterrupted helium supply and industry-best customer service. Our onsite chemist analyst tests our industrial gases before delivering them to you to ensure you receive the top-shelf product you deserve.
Ready to find the gases for your business needs? Reach out to our team today.