Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Helium rationing, a looming crisis – and a sinking feeling

By Brent McInnes, Curtin University

With helium demand rapidly outpacing supply and rationing inevitable, Macquarie University has launched a helium recovery system.

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Helium demand is rapidly outpacing supply, cheap helium is gone forever and rationing is inevitable.

More disturbingly is that a global helium supply crisis is looming this year. The fact is that the US Senate has until October 1 2013 to pass a bill overturning a current law that stipulates that on that date the US Federal Helium Reserve (35% of current global supply) will be closed to non-government users.

It is into this context that Macquarie University launches its new state-of-the-art liquid helium recovery system today, in partnership with CSIRO, the goal being to safeguard Australian research against the looming helium shortages.

It’s a tough time for a gas we have come to take for granted, with a long and influential history.

High tensions

The Cold War, as we know, saw two ideologically opposed nations locked into a technology race to build ever larger rockets capable of delivering nuclear warheads onto the cities of their enemies tens of thousands of kilometres away.