Helium was first discovered in 1868 in the sun’s corona with the name ‘Helios’ which means ‘sun’ in Greek. It has a boiling point of -268.9 Celsius, is colorless and odorless and completely unreactive. It’s the only gas lighter than air except for hydrogen – which is highly flammable It has many uses including cooling of magnets in MRI scanners, large hadron collider, satellite instruments, lasers, welding and fibre optics.
During most instrument helium filling applications some helium escapes. This escaped helium is captured but becomes contaminated with air during escape. This mixture of gas is then bottled and sold as ’balloon gas’ considered a by product or recycled product by the manufacturers. Balloon gas cannot be used in science and medical applications due to high levels of impurity required in such applications. The expense of capturing and purifying the escaped helium far outweighs what it can be sold for.
Balloon gas usually has a global purity of 95% helium, with a minimum of 92% helium content required for ensuring the balloon floats. Let’s not forget that the balloon market is only one application and makes up less than 10% of the worldwide helium market, there are thus several other applications that use helium.
It is important to note that helium is currently mined as a by-product of natural gas mining – not through specifically mining helium itself. However, new sources of helium deposits are being discovered all the time due to better detection techniques, and helium dependent applications are being developed to utilize alternative gases. Our manufacturers have advised us that helium reserves are difficult to predict as it depends on supply and demand – but no shortage is anticipated.
Balloon gas can be purchased in canisters for home use and are only available to over 18’s. Always check the canister for any obvious signs of damage, and never inhale helium. Inhalation of helium can deprive your body of oxygen and the risks are simply not worth it.
For more detailed information - please download our Balloon gas information leaflet below.