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Old 24th October 2022, 12:37 AM   #1
Bob001
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A new worry: No helium.

The world is running out of helium, and there's no alternative.
Quote:
A global helium shortage has doctors worried about one of the natural gas’s most essential, and perhaps unexpected, uses: MRIs.

Strange as it sounds, the lighter-than-air element that gives balloons their buoyancy also powers the vital medical diagnostic machines. An MRI can’t function without some 2,000 liters of ultra-cold liquid helium keeping its magnets cool enough to work. But helium — a nonrenewable element found deep within the Earth’s crust — is running low, leaving hospitals wondering how to plan for a future with a much scarcer supply.
https://www.yahoo.com/news/helium-sh...110000674.html
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Old 24th October 2022, 12:45 AM   #2
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One solution is to use less helium.

https://www.ge.com/news/press-releas...-ge-healthcare

Another is to develop superconducting materials that can function at a higher temperature.
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Old 24th October 2022, 12:55 AM   #3
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finally a good reason to develop Fusion Power.
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Old 24th October 2022, 01:52 AM   #4
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This is old news - it's been known for years that helium stores are running down and replacements aren't there.

Swap to hydrogen! What could go wrong?
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Old 24th October 2022, 02:50 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by The Atheist View Post
This is old news - it's been known for years that helium stores are running down and replacements aren't there.

Swap to hydrogen! What could go wrong?
That people can still buy balloons filled with helium is crazy.
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Old 24th October 2022, 03:08 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by The Atheist View Post
This is old news - it's been known for years that helium stores are running down and replacements aren't there.

Swap to hydrogen! What could go wrong?


"Luckily, in the history of humanity, nothing bad has ever happened
from lighting hydrogen on fire"

- Mark Watney
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Old 24th October 2022, 03:24 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Darat View Post
That people can still buy balloons filled with helium is crazy.
If helium were so rare, wouldn't it be prohibitively expensive?

When you liquify all the helium in an entire major amusement park, how many liters will that turn out to be? How does that compare to the 2000 l a single MRI needs?

(And now, it is time for me to check out world use of helium broken down by use, and whether an MRI loses any helium during its lifetime of operations, and if yes, how much)
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Old 24th October 2022, 04:18 AM   #8
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If the Earth runs out of helium, will it fall out of the sky?
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Old 24th October 2022, 04:33 AM   #9
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Another idea is that we aren't running out of helium. Well sort of.
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I AGREE

While non-renewable, it isn't rare.

As for balloons, its my understanding that they use lower grade helium. One reason why you probably shouldn't inhale it.
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Old 24th October 2022, 06:41 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Oystein View Post
If helium were so rare, wouldn't it be prohibitively expensive?

When you liquify all the helium in an entire major amusement park, how many liters will that turn out to be? How does that compare to the 2000 l a single MRI needs?

(And now, it is time for me to check out world use of helium broken down by use, and whether an MRI loses any helium during its lifetime of operations, and if yes, how much)

Wikipedia says the density of helium is 0.1786 g/l at STP and 0.125 g/cm3 as a liquid at its boiling point. Quick math says 2000 liters of liquid is equal to just under 1.4 million liters of gas. A standard 11" balloon holds 11.4 liters of air, so that's just under 122,800 balloons for one MRI.

Last edited by Armitage72; 24th October 2022 at 06:42 AM.
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Old 24th October 2022, 07:32 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Oystein View Post
How does that compare to the 2000 l a single MRI needs?
Originally Posted by Armitage72 View Post
Wikipedia says the density of helium is 0.1786 g/l at STP and 0.125 g/cm3 as a liquid at its boiling point. Quick math says 2000 liters of liquid is equal to just under 1.4 million liters of gas. A standard 11" balloon holds 11.4 liters of air, so that's just under 122,800 balloons for one MRI.
How Much Liquid Helium Does an MRI Machine Use?

Quote:
For instance, Philips systems with the F2000 magnets (Philips Intera 1.5T and Philips Achieva 1.5T) will consume about 0.02-0.04% of their helium capacity per day, which results in about 1% a month.

Furthermore, systems such as the Toshiba Vantage Titan that have the OR76 magnet consumes about 0.1% – 0.14% per day (up to 4.2% per month) while the Siemens Symphony with the OR70 magnet uses around 0 .1%-0.2% of its liquid helium capacity per day (up to 3 – 6% per month).
On the low end, it uses 1% of its helium per month, and 6% on the high end.

An example is given:
Quote:
Let’s say you have an MRI scanner with the OR76 magnet with the full capacity of 1800 litres of helium.

Your system consumes approximately 4% of its helium capacity per month, which sums up to 48% per year (4%*12 = 48%).

That means that 864 litres are consumed per year (1800 litres * 48% = 864 litres).

Assuming the price of liquid helium per litre is around 30€ at the time of your purchase, it will cost you approximately 25.920€ (14€/l * 864 litres = 25.920 €) per year to refill your MRI Scanner with liquid helium.
This is on the higher end of the range.

The article goes on to say that there are now "zero boil-off" scanners as well as helium-free scanners:
Quote:
But what happened in 2018?

Philips developed its helium free MRI magnet called BlueSeal. This cooling technology seals the helium into the magnet during manufacturing and thus reduces the helium required to only 7 litres.

The company integrated the BlueSeal fully sealed magnet into the Ingenia Ambition X 1.5T, making it the world’s first magnetic resonance system that enables helium-free operations. They also eliminated the dependency on a commodity (Helium) that has an unpredictable supply.
Well, it does use 7 liters, but that never needs to be replenished.
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Old 24th October 2022, 07:38 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by Mike! View Post
If the Earth runs out of helium, will it fall out of the sky?
Of course not! Everybody knows the Earth is on the back of a turtle!
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Old 24th October 2022, 07:44 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by The Atheist View Post
This is old news - it's been known for years that helium stores are running down and replacements aren't there.

Swap to hydrogen! What could go wrong?
It's already happening (maybe; link is to Daily Fail):

The warning all parents need to hear: Mum reveals the hidden danger of BALLOONS at a child's birthday party (and it has nothing to do with choking)

Quote:
A worried mother has revealed how having floating balloons at a children's birthday party can lead to disaster - with some decorators allegedly filling them with 'explosive' hydrogen to cut costs on helium.

At a quarter of the price of helium, hydrogen appears to be a budget-friendly option for operators looking to improve profit margins or keep costs low for customers.
Quote:
Tina and her family learned about the helium replacement the hard way - when a giant, attractive balloon exploded 'shaking her house'.

The family had held onto the balloon after her son's seventh birthday party and had been playing with it moments before it exploded.

'They tossed the balloon like a beach ball and we even joined in a couple of times. My son took it with him to the bedroom because he wanted to pee and suddenly we heard a LOUD explosion and the force rocked our house,' she said in a post published by Tiny Hearts Education.

'We even saw a bit of spark/fire along with the boom,' she said.

Her son was burned on the forearm when the balloon exploded.
What kind of ******* ******* idiot would sell hydrogen party balloons???

Oh, I forgot, the world is full of ******* ******* idiots!
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Old 24th October 2022, 02:21 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by wobs View Post
Another idea is that we aren't running out of helium. Well sort of.
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I AGREE

While non-renewable, it isn't rare.

As for balloons, its my understanding that they use lower grade helium. One reason why you probably shouldn't inhale it.
The last time I went to buy helium balloons I was offered the choice. They told me that the regular stuff would keep a latex balloon afloat for about a day and the high-grade stuff about 4x longer.

The high grade stuff was correspondingly more expensive.

They also sell DIY helium balloon kits. To me that seems like a recipe for wastage.

My solution for balloons would be methane, it's lighter than air but less leaky than hydrogen. That might also make it less prone to blowing up. It'll still blow up from time to time but we could just learn to accept that as part of the fun.

ETA: This was a big issue when legislation went through requiring the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to sell off the National Helium Reserve. There was a lot of Luddite-type arguments made in that debate as people argued that since the reserve was created to store helium for airships and airships were now obsolete, there was no need to keep a reserve anymore. Voices pointing out the need for cooling of super-conductive materials were ignored.

On the more positive side there are now liquid-nitrogen cooling temperature superconductors that can do many of the things that liquid helium-cooled things used to be required for.

Last edited by crescent; 24th October 2022 at 02:27 PM.
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Old 24th October 2022, 02:27 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by shemp View Post
It's already happening (maybe; link is to Daily Fail):

The warning all parents need to hear: Mum reveals the hidden danger of BALLOONS at a child's birthday party (and it has nothing to do with choking)


What kind of ******* ******* idiot would sell hydrogen party balloons???

Oh, I forgot, the world is full of ******* ******* idiots!
Sell party packs.

Balloons & candles for the cake!

We can always use asbestos to protect the kids - that's fireproof.
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Old 24th October 2022, 03:18 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by crescent View Post
The last time I went to buy helium balloons I was offered the choice. They told me that the regular stuff would keep a latex balloon afloat for about a day and the high-grade stuff about 4x longer.

The high grade stuff was correspondingly more expensive.

They also sell DIY helium balloon kits. To me that seems like a recipe for wastage.

My solution for balloons would be methane, it's lighter than air but less leaky than hydrogen. That might also make it less prone to blowing up. It'll still blow up from time to time but we could just learn to accept that as part of the fun.

ETA: This was a big issue when legislation went through requiring the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to sell off the National Helium Reserve. There was a lot of Luddite-type arguments made in that debate as people argued that since the reserve was created to store helium for airships and airships were now obsolete, there was no need to keep a reserve anymore. Voices pointing out the need for cooling of super-conductive materials were ignored.

On the more positive side there are now liquid-nitrogen cooling temperature superconductors that can do many of the things that liquid helium-cooled things used to be required for.
Ammonia is about as light as methane, it isn't a greenhouse gas, and it doesn't explode. Of course, there are other concerns, but that's also part of the fun.
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Old 24th October 2022, 04:00 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by shemp View Post
Ammonia is about as light as methane, it isn't a greenhouse gas, and it doesn't explode. Of course, there are other concerns, but that's also part of the fun.
Fart filled balloons could be the next big thing..
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Old 24th October 2022, 05:36 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by shemp View Post
Suggest anyone worried about they might have bought hydrogen instead of helium could put a small quantity near a flame. If it goes bang then it is hydrogen. If the flame goes out then it is helium. Small quantity = a test tube worth. Any more and the container might explode. Best done outside then you know the house will not burn down.

Edit. Exploding hydrogen balloons https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLuOM9aOWvk
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Old 24th October 2022, 06:26 PM   #19
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If only there were a way to manufacture helium out of component parts. It'd have to be hydrogen, I guess, and you'd have to find some way of mashing them together really hard - it would probably require pretty high pressure and temperature...
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Old 24th October 2022, 06:34 PM   #20
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If you really want to make the hydgrogen to go 'bang' filling the balloon with 2/3 oxygen and 1/3 hydrogen is the way to go.

I can remember doing this as part of chemistry in High School and the resulting bang is quite impressive.
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Old 24th October 2022, 11:27 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by novaphile View Post
If you really want to make the hydgrogen to go 'bang' filling the balloon with 2/3 oxygen and 1/3 hydrogen is the way to go.

I can remember doing this as part of chemistry in High School and the resulting bang is quite impressive.
Even better: 1/3 oxygen and 2/3 hydrogen.
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Old 25th October 2022, 05:56 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by crescent View Post
The last time I went to buy helium balloons I was offered the choice. They told me that the regular stuff would keep a latex balloon afloat for about a day and the high-grade stuff about 4x longer.

The high grade stuff was correspondingly more expensive.
.
I wonder if that was actually a different grade of helium or simply the stuff they spray inside the balloons to make them less porous and thus last longer.

Helium balloons don't last long because helium is an agile molecule and balloon latex isn't exactly ironclad. The spray in stuff decreases the porous latex.
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Old 25th October 2022, 07:52 AM   #23
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Some tears ago the firm I worked for was doing some work at the TRIUMF nuclear research facility in BC. Helium was used in a number of their operations and helium recovery was an important part of their process. I remember learning that their recovered helium storage tank was made of 4 inch thick steel - a thickness that was deemed necessary to minimise helium loss due to migration of helium atoms/molecules through the walls of thinner tanks. Even with that thickness they accepted that there would be some losses in the system.
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Old 25th October 2022, 08:01 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by kookbreaker View Post
I wonder if that was actually a different grade of helium or simply the stuff they spray inside the balloons to make them less porous and thus last longer.

Helium balloons don't last long because helium is an agile molecule and balloon latex isn't exactly ironclad. The spray in stuff decreases the porous latex.
The clerk at the dollar store said that the cheap stuff was just helium mixed with air. Like 1/4 helium and the rest is air.

However, it remains possible that the clerk at the dollar store is not an expert in physics or chemistry*. And it is certainty that I myself am also not an expert in physics or chemistry (better than average, I took a fair bit of such classes in college, but that was long ago and at my prime I was nowhere near expert level).


(*although really, who knows? Astoundingly educated and intelligent people sometimes end up in odd menial jobs unconnected to their expertise.)
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Old 25th October 2022, 08:56 AM   #25
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If I remember right, what is used now for balloons is the aptly-named "balloon gas". A percentage of helium and other atmospheric gases, though in trying to track down a source, I struck out.
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Old 25th October 2022, 08:58 AM   #26
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https://support.bargainballoons.com/...s-balloon-gas-
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Old 25th October 2022, 09:51 AM   #27
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Originally Posted by Puppycow View Post
Even better: 1/3 oxygen and 2/3 hydrogen.
And as a bonus, it'll produce deadly DiHydrogen Monoxide.
Note that the 1/3 and 2/3 proportion needs to be by volume, not by mass. And at the same temperature and pressure, too.

Back on topic, the pending shortage of helium is far from new. I remember hearing about it in elementary school or Junior high, more than 60 years ago.
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Old 25th October 2022, 09:55 AM   #28
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Originally Posted by kookbreaker View Post
I wonder if that was actually a different grade of helium or simply the stuff they spray inside the balloons to make them less porous and thus last longer.

Helium balloons don't last long because helium is an agile molecule and balloon latex isn't exactly ironclad. The spray in stuff decreases the porous latex.
Helium balloons over here are generally the foil type.
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Old 25th October 2022, 09:57 AM   #29
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Originally Posted by Trebuchet View Post
And as a bonus, it'll produce deadly DiHydrogen Monoxide.
Note that the 1/3 and 2/3 proportion needs to be by volume, not by mass. And at the same temperature and pressure, too.

Back on topic, the pending shortage of helium is far from new. I remember hearing about it in elementary school or Junior high, more than 60 years ago.
I've read that inhaling as little as a tablespoon of that stuff can be deadly! Why won't the government restrict the stuff? We need to take down big DiHydrogen Monoxide lobby!
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Old 25th October 2022, 09:58 AM   #30
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Plenty of states in the US Southwest are putting restrictions on DHMO!
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Old 25th October 2022, 10:34 AM   #31
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Originally Posted by Planigale View Post
One solution is to use less helium.

https://www.ge.com/news/press-releas...-ge-healthcare

Another is to develop superconducting materials that can function at a higher temperature.
Superconductors functioning at liquid nitrogen temperatures have existed for over thirty years and are used fairly extensively. They have issues with physical strength, brittleness and manufacturing.
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Old 25th October 2022, 11:13 AM   #32
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Originally Posted by Darat View Post
Helium balloons over here are generally the foil type.
Those usually last longer without any treatment.
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Old 25th October 2022, 11:20 AM   #33
kookbreaker
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Originally Posted by crescent View Post
The clerk at the dollar store said that the cheap stuff was just helium mixed with air. Like 1/4 helium and the rest is air.

However, it remains possible that the clerk at the dollar store is not an expert in physics or chemistry*. And it is certainty that I myself am also not an expert in physics or chemistry (better than average, I took a fair bit of such classes in college, but that was long ago and at my prime I was nowhere near expert level).


(*although really, who knows? Astoundingly educated and intelligent people sometimes end up in odd menial jobs unconnected to their expertise.)
1/4 helium, 3/4 air simply isn’t going to float much. Can’t do the math but that seems nowhere near enough buoyancy.
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Old 25th October 2022, 11:40 AM   #34
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A mix of helium and hydrogen would be harder to light then pure hydrogen....
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Old 25th October 2022, 11:45 AM   #35
RecoveringYuppy
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Originally Posted by kookbreaker View Post
1/4 helium, 3/4 air simply isn’t going to float much. Can’t do the math but that seems nowhere near enough buoyancy.
Right. At 1.29 gm/liter for the density of air you'd only be getting a fraction of a gram of buoyancy from that mix.

The balloon gas I cited is still 97% helium. That might seem like 'what's the point' but getting out that last 3% is very expensive and unnecessary for this application. They aren't doing it to save helium.
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Old 25th October 2022, 12:30 PM   #36
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Originally Posted by Oystein View Post
If helium were so rare, wouldn't it be prohibitively expensive?
Economics doesn't work that way. Price only depends on availability now and in the relatively near future. In the absence of regulation, shortages 5+ years out are irrelevant as far as current pricing goes.
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Old 26th October 2022, 06:34 AM   #37
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Originally Posted by Darat View Post
That people can still buy balloons filled with helium is crazy.
To be fair, they aren't actually "filled with helium." They are helium mixtures. I don't know what the mixture is these days, but it could be less than 50% helium, I would think
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Old 26th October 2022, 07:44 AM   #38
RecoveringYuppy
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Originally Posted by pgwenthold View Post
To be fair, they aren't actually "filled with helium." They are helium mixtures. I don't know what the mixture is these days, but it could be less than 50% helium, I would think
It's typically cited as 97% and 50% is too low to reliably float balloons.
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Old 26th October 2022, 08:32 AM   #39
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Originally Posted by RecoveringYuppy View Post
It's typically cited as 97% and 50% is too low to reliably float balloons.

This fella is claiming 20% He with 80% air is enough to float a typical latex balloon:
How to save lots of helium (and money)
Quote:
Conclusion
Only 19.8 % helium is needed to keep the balloon afloat. Still, we should probably assume we have to make it around 30 % to give it some lift and account for unknowns. That’s still a 70 % reduction from the norm!
(the math is in the article).

This one examines a 50/50 mix:
What Happens If You Put Half Air & Half Helium in a Balloon?
Quote:
Helium is lighter than air, so although a balloon half-filled with helium will look the same as a balloon filled completely with air, it will behave slightly differently. Assuming that it's spherical in size, a 12-inch balloon has a volume equal to 4/3 x pi x 216, or 904.8 cubic inches. Half of that, 452.4 cubic inches, is equivalent to .26 cubic feet. Because helium has a lifting capacity of about .84 ounces per cubic foot, a half-helium 12-inch balloon can lift about .22 ounces. Since a 12-inch balloon weighs less than this amount, a half-helium balloon will still float, though not as well as a completely filled one.

There is goop to add to a balloon that will make the helium stay inside longer: HiFloat That's a liquid and was not what the dollar store I referenced earlier was using - they specifically claimed it was choice of two different gas mixtures.

Several companies sell 60/40 regulators (60% He, 40% air) specifically for balloons.
Quote:
Will my balloons still float?
Yes! The majority of the fill is still helium, so your balloons will still float. However, they will not float as long as they would if filled with 100% helium.
I'm guessing the store I went to back then had one of the 60/40 regulators (drawing from two tanks at the same time, one with helium and one with air). They seem to be adjustable to allow either the mix or 100% He per customer preference. That also means that the industry would still be purifying to a 97% purity and shipping that out in the tanks that go to the stores. The purification may be as much to remove toxins and solvents as it is to ensure buoyancy.
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Old 26th October 2022, 09:07 AM   #40
RecoveringYuppy
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I'd be pretty sure that some balloons can be floated with 60/50 or 50/50 especially if you don't care for how long. But that first guys claim of 20/80 seems off. I'll double check his numbers later.
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