View Full Version : This is weird - looming helium crisis

May 31st 2011, 09:09 PM

Turns out one of the main commercial uses (besides party balloons) is the cooling of superconducting magnets in MRI machines. Kind of important if you need medical help.

Made me wonder what the global reserves are for some of the other rare earth elements. Then I found this report - http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R41347.pdf.

Some very weird stuff like lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, and lutetium. A mouthful ... but it's important for all kinds of reasons - hybrid engines, catalysts, magnets, hard drives, lasers and a bunch of other important things.


What is important though is almost all of it comes from China - as in 97% of it. Wonder if this could not have repercussions down the road for those countries who don't have it in abundance?

Just found this report titled Rare earth elements on the endangered list (http://www.greenlivingonline.com/article/rare-earth-elements-endangered-list) - makes for some interesting reading. To be honest, I was not aware the situation was so dire. This comment puts it in perspective:

in January 2003 indium was selling for around $60 per kilogram, whereas August 2006 it was valued at over $1000 per kilogram.

May 31st 2011, 09:49 PM
Right. This might become a bigger chip for China than Oil has been for the Middle-East.

It appears reserves in the US, among other nations, remain largely a big unknown, simply because of lack of research and development.

Interesting article, no doubt.

May 31st 2011, 10:08 PM
In the 90's I was running a major electronic manufacturing project when an earthquake hit some part of Japan. Forget where but the upshot of it all was there was a factory there that made something like 60 or 70% of all the epoxy resins required for the manufacture of common semiconductor chips - not rocket science, just an epoxy resin. I remember memory chips went up by 300% overnight and we went into a tailspin because we had already quoted our customer a fixed price for the final product.

Anyone remember the memory chip crisis of 1991/2? ... one earthquake, one factory, global problem.

May 31st 2011, 10:36 PM
That's seems a good explanation for China's "most favored nation" trade status despite their record on human rights. I was always thinking that was a conspiracy of some sort. This is a logical reason for it.

May 31st 2011, 10:53 PM
Of course there are likely undiscovered deposits in many parts of the world. The mining and exploration industry have not been sitting idly by when there is the smell of profits in the wind.

May 31st 2011, 10:54 PM
I think I saw something earlier this year or late last year about China cutting down on the amount of rare earth elements it will export. Caused several companies to have to reopen mines in other parts of the world. I know at least one is being reopened in the US. I just found a link to a reuters story on it, China's sqeeze on rare earths (http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/22/us-china-rareearth-idUSTRE72L10I20110322)

May 31st 2011, 11:06 PM
Man, I've got to go explore some claims I hold.

May 31st 2011, 11:09 PM
Kind of frightening...how a shortage in one measly country can affect the whole world.

Hellium...who would have thought it did all those things!