The 21st Century and Beyond

Helium, the depleting gas

Helium, the gas that makes things float, is becoming harder and harder to acquire.  Over the past 4-years, helium production has not been able to keep up with the demand, and like gasoline, it has been sky rocking each year. Helium is natural gas but still needs to be treated, purified, and stored.

Eight manufacturers refine helium globally, five in the United States, and three others in Europe. When you think of helium, you think of balloons. However, in the production of LCDs, helium is used. At present, the largest consumer of helium is China who acquires 25% of the helium production. The medical community uses helium in MRI machines, and the United States Government scientific communities are a large consumer of helium.

Prices have increased 300% and do not look to drop anytime soon.  Party stores, balloon decorators, restaurants, and others who use helium balloons quickly look for alternatives.  While balloon manufacturers struggle with a bad economy and a shortage of helium distribution jacks up the price of a helium-filled balloon, balloon manufactures will adjust their product line or go out of business.

In the 1990s, every wedding, corporate event, or birthday party I went to had helium balloons floating over the tables. Yet, in this past year, the two weddings I’ve attended not a single helium balloon.  I have entertained at countless parties the past several years and have only seen a handful of balloon bouquets.

I just assumed that, like my childhood, my kids too would play with a helium balloon. Who knows what gas we will be using in the centuries and beyond. For all I know, I am part of an era that had passed when helium was plentiful, and floating over every table was a cluster of balloons.

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