How Is Helium Produced?

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How Is Helium Produced?

By | October 1999
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"How Is Helium Produced?"

Production: Although Helium is one of the most common elements in the universe it is a rare gas on earth. It exists in the atmosphere in such small quantities (less than five parts per million) that recovering it from the air is uneconomical. Helium is produced as a by-product of the refining of natural gas, which is carried out on a commercial scale in the USA and Poland. In these areas natural gas contains a relatively high concentration of Helium which has accumulated as a result of radioactive decay of heavy elements within the earth's crust. Helium is supplied to distribution centres throughout the world in liquid form in large cryogenic containers. The Helium is filled into liquid containers, gas cylinders and cylinder packs as necessary.

History of Helium Production: Government involvement in helium conservation dates to the Helium Act of 1925 which authorized the Bureau of Mines to build and operate a large-scale helium extraction and purification plant. From 1929 until 1960 the federal government was the only domestic helium producer. In 1960, Congress amended the Helium Act to provide incentives to natural gas producers for stripping natural gas of its helium, for purchase of the separated helium by the government, and for its long-term storage. With over 960 million cubic meters (34.6 billion cubic feet) of helium in government storage and a large private helium recovery industry, questions arise as to the need for either the federal helium extraction program or the federally maintained helium stockpile.

In a move which would take the federal government out of the helium business, Congress passed the Helium Privatization Act (H.R. 873) as part of the Seven- Year Balanced Budget Reconciliation Act of 1995 (H.R. 2491). Although the measure died when the President vetoed the Budget Act on December 6, 1995, the Administration has made a goal the privatization of the federal helium program. On April 30, 1996, the House...
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