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More Environmental Drivel With New Periodic Table – We’re Going To Run Out Of Helium

The European chemists organisation – EuChemS – has just added to the torrent of environmental drivel with their new periodic table. They’re trying to tell us which elements are going to run out when and thus tell us all that we’ve got to recycle. The entire process is bunkum because they’ve not understood the first thing about the supply of minerals. They simply do not know the meaning of mineral reserve that is.

Just for the edification of anyone who does drool when contemplating their own nasal effluvia – you know, a member of Greenpeace, that sort of person – a mineral reserve is something we’ve proven, yes proven, that we can extract from using today’s technology, at today’s prices, and make a profit. It costs a lot of money to prove these facts. Thus we only prove for what we’re likely to use in the next few decades. Mineral reserves are, to a reasonable level of accuracy, just the working stock of current mines.

There is no relationship, no relationship at all, between our mineral reserves and how much of that element or mineral is available to us to use. Really do grasp this point. It’s not that the amount is larger. It’s not that the multiple is high. It’s that there is no relationship at all. There are, for example, absolutely no mineral reserves of hafnium anywhere on the planet. Nothing, absolutely nada. At current rates of usage we might run out some few billion years after the Sun goes Red Giant. The European Chemical Society tries to tell us that there’s a serious risk of running short of Hafnium in the next 100 years. This is so gibberingly stupid that it would get a laugh from German geologists – I know because I told some this once and they giggled. Seriously, German – German – geologists, giggling.

Sorry, the entire concept they’re using is tripe.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]A new version of the periodic table has been published. The European Chemical Society, which represents more than 160,000 scientists, has compiled it to highlight the remaining availability of some 90 elements and their vulnerability as industry continues to devour the world’s resources. Of particular note are specific elements which are used in the manufacture of phones and other electronic devices. Professor David Cole-Hamilton is vice president of the European Chemical Society.[/perfectpullquote]

The report is here. Savour this idiocy:

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Colours
• The table is colour codediii to show that in some cases we are consuming elements very fast
and if we continue to do so their availability will become limited (unless we work on finding
ways to recycle them).
• Of course, we do not actually run out of the element. The problem is that it gets dispersed and
more difficult to use (harvesting and recycling issues).
• Helium (He) is the only element that can be lost. It is so light that when it gets into the
atmosphere it escapes earth’s gravity and is lost into space. So, we genuinely do lose helium
o Helium (He) has important uses in high field magnets, which use superconductors that
only work at temperatures below that of liquid nitrogen (boiling point -196 oC) and so
need liquid helium (boiling point -269 oC) to cool them.
o One of the main uses of these magnets is in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
o Another important use of helium is to dilute oxygen in the “air” that deep-sea divers
breathe. Unlike nitrogen, helium does not dissolve in the blood so it does not cause
any harm on decompression.
o Special methods have been developed to recover rather than lose the helium that is
breathed out by divers or used to cool magnets
o The use of helium for making birthday balloons should be avoided because when they
go down the helium is lost forever.[/perfectpullquote]


[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]One time use and then discard cannot continue.[/perfectpullquote]

Helium. The Earth’s natural endowment boiled off into space billions of years ago. So, where does the current stuff come from? From the radioactive breakdown of uranium and thorium. Something we’ll run out of it sometime around the collapse of the universe back to the singularity – maybe the next cycle of the Big Bang in fact not this one due in 15 billion years.

And what happens to that helium boiling up out of the rocks of Cornwall, just to give an example of rocks that emit it? Some of it does boil off into space, some hangs around in the atmosphere, which is about 3 ppm He from memory. And some of it migrates off into the natural gas reservoirs. And when we stick a straw in the Earth to get our cooking gas there it is, a trace but still some, our helium.

Now, to get the helium in a nice pure form is expensive, sure is. We’ve got to cool the cooking gas down to liquid, take it away. What’s left that is still gas contains all our helium and we then have to cool that down to liquid again. But it’s that first cooling that takes most of the energy and the vast bulk of the cost. We’ll not do this just to get our helium.

But, what is the world currently doing with natural gas? Yes, that’s right, it keeps building bloody great plants to cool it. To liquefy it in fact, so we can stick on ships as liquefied natural gas, LNG. And, yup, our helium is in the gas left behind. All we need to do to get more helium is add the little extra, marginal, plant onto the girt big ones we’re already building.

As, in fact, people are. LNG plants often enough do come with a helium extraction facility. Because, you know, money.

Someone who thinks we’re about to run out of helium is just ignorant. Just as someone who thinks we’re about to run out of hafnium is gibberingly ignorant. Appellations we’ll now have to add to our descriptions of the European Chemical Society. For they’ve just released a big report proving that they don’t know what they’re talking about. And there’s nothing more stupid than that, is there? To actually prove your ignorance.

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2 years ago

Technically a *Proven* reserve is … – Oil companies use “proven”, “proven and probable” and “possible” reserves and “proven” only covers those where the field is expected to generate an *adequate* profit at the range of future prices over the life-time of the field. Just to get my pendantry in before I start arguing. So for most minerals the way to change the amount of reserves is to either change the selling price or the cost of extraction. Governments will inevitably increase the cost of extraction by levying taxes on profitable enterprises while technological advances will periodically reduce costs for… Read more »

2 years ago

Brilliant by Worstall.

2 years ago

If you like this google for “No Breakfast Fallacy”. Book length treatment of the same subject from me a few years back. There’s a free version as well as one on Amazon.

Jonathan Harston
Jonathan Harston
2 years ago

It’s the old “astronomy isn’t about telescopes/computer science isn’t about programming” thing. Chemistry is about playing around with smelly things, not about minerals exploration and extraction. They’re ranting outside their competence.

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