If there’s a helium shortage, why can’t we make more by shooting electrons at hydrogen?



If there’s a helium shortage, why can’t we make more by shooting electrons at hydrogen?

In: Chemistry

Helium has an extra proton (and usually neutrons) compared to Hydrogen. Adding an electron would just give you negatively charged hydrogen.

Adding those particles to the nucleus basically involves squeezing hydrogen atoms together really, really tight. We’re not able to do this in a controlled manner without a huge input of energy. Even then, the amount of hydrogen fused is tiny. You couldn’t really do this at industrial scale.

Helium can be extracted in other ways including from various mining operations which is easier than via hydrogen. https://youtu.be/FoyT-M3UuGs

> If

That’s just it. There isn’t. And Earth produces helium all the time through radioactive decay. That’s how it got there in the first place. There’s so much helium, it’s accessible in natural gas deposits, and we don’t even bother separating it out because it’s just not economically worth it.

We’re fine.

The thing is it wouldn’t be really cost-effective to make it in a lab, unless you want your helium-filled balloons to cost you $50+ per balloon, just to pay off the lab fees that made it for you.

Nevermind that, with most of the processes to produce elements like that, they aren’t really going for “quantity”, they’re doing the process to see/prove that they *can*. Imagine if you had a full factory process to fuse helium in their lab, and only produced 2 or 3 tanks of it per year.

It isn’t that we *can’t* make helium, it’s that it simply isn’t cost effective, and no where near the quantities that people want.

It’s super expensive to make atoms in a particle accelerator. Helium costs about $65 per kg, and you can’t make a kg of anything in a particle accelerator for $65. We only have a shortage at the price people want to pay.

**There is no helium shortage.**

What happened is there was the end of a huge helium glut that reduced the price of helium. The US government stockpiled helium from natural gas in 1960, thinking it might be useful in airships. By 1995 a billion cubic meters of helium had been gathered and the reserve was $1.4 billion in debt, so they started selling it off (as helium airships turned out not to be an important wartime need).

This mass selling of the gas pushed the price down and meant it was hardly worth separating from natural gas, as it was more effort than the price you could get. But eventually the US started to run out of gas they wanted to sell and the price could be expected to rise again. That isn’t a “shortage”, we can still get helium from natural gas deposits. It just means the price is now high enough to bother doing it again.