While everyone is familiar with helium’s use in party balloons, the lighter-than-air element has many more important uses in semiconductor manufacturing, medical imaging, and other technological applications.
Rising prices are resulting from a worldwide shortage, but a research group led by UWindsor chemistry professor Scott Mundle is exploring new sources in Western Canada.
Dr. Mundle describes the project in an article published May 23 in the Conversation, which shares news and views from the academic and research community.
“Helium is generated deep underground by the radioactive decay of uranium and thorium over geological timescales. It gets trapped in non-porous rock formations. The only way to find helium is to drill exploration wells deep into the subsurface,” he writes.
What makes the helium resource in Western Canada so attractive is the composition of the gas, which is associated with underground reservoirs of nitrogen, rather than carbon dioxide or methane present in other parts of the world.
“Extracting this resource will have a much smaller environmental footprint in Canada,” Mundle explains.
In addition, major recent helium discoveries in Canada are in areas that have already seen significant oil and gas development.
Says Mundle: “This means that the growing helium exploration industry can piggyback on decades of investment by oil and gas companies, such as existing seismic data and well control.”
He concludes that Western Canada is poised to become a leader in the production of helium: “These new explorers are well positioned to fill the supply gap.”
Read the entire piece, “Exploration in Western Canada could hold the answer to the global helium shortage,” in the Conversation.