You put Helium into a balloon and watch it go. Or suck it into your mouth and laugh as it changes the pitch of your voice until you sound like one of the “Chipmunks”. But where does this light gas come from?
♦ What is Helium?
Helium is a natural gas. It is not toxic. It is not radioactive and it is environmentally friendly. Helium is abundant in the Universe at large but it is not easy to find here on Earth.
Helium is formed by radioactive decay. The Alpha Particles are stopped by the rock and overtime as they decay become Helium. It is interesting that when you fill a Helium balloon or suck in Helium to change the pitch of your voice you are using material that was once upon a time very radioactive.
♦ Where is Helium Found on Earth.
Helium is found in trace amounts all over the place. That is the problem It is only found in trace amounts in many of these places, far too little to be worth the time and effort to extract it. The main place where it is found that actually has enough Helium present to make it worth the effort to extract the Helium is within natural gas deposits.
♦ How is helium distilled?
Of course that brings out the obvious question. How is Helium distilled from the deposits of natural gas? The main way is based on one of the properties of Helium that make it an important gas. It is lighter than most other gases and has a lower boiling point.
To extract Helium the process goes like this: The Natural Gas has the pressure and temperature lowered to the point where all the all the other gas components liquefy except for the Helium. This process is repeated a few times to make sure all of the gas is extracted. The final step involves the use of activated charcoal as a final filtration system. Making the final result 99.9% pure Helium.
Another process to remove Helium from natural gas is simply to pass the natural gas through a series of semi permeable membranes and other barriers all in the effort to extract as much Helium as possible.
♦ The Distillation of Helium
The distillation of helium is not cheap. With the large amounts of profits being made from natural gas many companies are not currently willing to set up an infrastructure to extract Helium from the natural gas. Once the Natural gas is out the Helium is lost forever. It is a finite resource and currently demand is outstripping availability. Because of this prices will continue to rise until it reaches a point where it IS worth the time and money to extract Helium from natural gas.