Should We Be Stockpiling Helium?

Dear all,
I have read and heard about helium prices increasing in the future, I was wondering several things. Would it be a good idea to buy and stockpile helium now and keep it for a long time so that I could potentially profit in the future? How do I actually store large amounts of helium cheaply? Will my helium dissipate over time? Is it hard to store helium? Do you think that there will even be a helium crisis? How would I sell helium? Who would buy helium from me? How much would they want to buy? Thank you for your time.

http://www.wallstreetdaily.com/2015/07/31/helium-policy-prices/

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berkeman
Mentor

russ_watters
Mentor
I'm going to re-open this and give it a chance...as an engineering thread. Here's how it will go:

1. Start with today's cost for helium and pick a future cost increase. Just guess - we're not going to get into that prediction.
2. Decide based on the current and future price how much you want to buy and store.
3. Research storage methods. For example, can you just buy standard cylinders and stack them in a shed? How many would it take?

If you approach this with some rigor, you will likely get a useful answer (sneak peek: it isn't feasible for an individual) even if based on speculative pricing.

Hoophy
fresh_42
Mentor
2021 Award
Wouldn't it simply be enough the look at a chart of helium futures? I've tried to find some but got redirected to unpleasant websites.
But at its core it seems to me to be a pure economic question about commodities and the price building rules of options.

So if hypothetically I was going to store large amounts of helium would it have to be stored in liquid form, would that not require refrigeration? Also does helium evaporate through the tanks over time? I do not actually plan on storing helium. I am just curious about it. Also is the link I posted unacceptable?

anorlunda
Staff Emeritus
Wouldn't it simply be enough the look at a chart of helium futures? I've tried to find some but got redirected to unpleasant websites.
But at its core it seems to me to be a pure economic question about commodities and the price building rules of options.

All fungible commodities could have a futures market, but not all do have a futures market. To build a viable market, you need a minimum number of active traders.
It is not necessary to store the commodity to have a market. Think of electricity futures for example.

When I google "helium futures", I get lots of hits on get-rich-quick scams, but checking at the Chicago Board of Trade, I find no helium prices quotes.

Hoophy
fresh_42
Mentor
2021 Award
All fungible commodities could have a futures market, but not all do have a futures market. To build a viable market, you need a minimum number of active traders.
It is not necessary to store the commodity to have a market. Think of electricity futures for example.

When I google "helium futures", I get lots of hits on get-rich-quick scams, but checking at the Chicago Board of Trade, I find no helium prices quotes.
I totally agree. However, it does not exclude OTC products. Since there is a demand and therefore a price, there should be forecasts as well, even if the market for options might be too small.

SteamKing
Staff Emeritus
Homework Helper
Dear all,
I have read and heard about helium prices increasing in the future, I was wondering several things. Would it be a good idea to buy and stockpile helium now and keep it for a long time so that I could potentially profit in the future? How do I actually store large amounts of helium cheaply? Will my helium dissipate over time? Is it hard to store helium? Do you think that there will even be a helium crisis? How would I sell helium? Who would buy helium from me? How much would they want to buy? Thank you for your time.

http://www.wallstreetdaily.com/2015/07/31/helium-policy-prices/
I think this is more hype than anything else.

To answer the top question, the U.S. is already stockpiling helium - and has been since 1925. It's a program called the Federal Helium Program, run by the Bureau of Land Management.

http://www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/energy/helium_program.html [Broken]

The helium is stored underground in geological formations, like salt domes.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Helium_Reserve

Although helium at one time was predicted to run out at some absurdly close date, like 2018, the government is still auctioning off supplies of the gas to commercial buyers. The latest auction occurred just last year, and future auctions are projected to occur through 2021.

http://www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/energy/helium_program/helium_delivery_2016.html [Broken]

There are several other sources of the gas worldwide, which is a by-product of natural gas production.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helium_production_in_the_United_States

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Hoophy
russ_watters
Mentor
So if hypothetically I was going to store large amounts of helium would it have to be stored in liquid form, would that not require refrigeration? Also does helium evaporate through the tanks over time?
Yes, if you stored it in liquid form it would require refrigeration. No, tanks don't typically leak by an appreciable amount.
Also is the link I posted unacceptable?
It's not great, but it is ok. We're just not well equipped to handle the speculative economics type discussion here.

I did a little research on this: A common cylinder size (K) holds 217 cubic feet of helium at 2200 psi (9" dia, 5' tall, 135lb). At $75/1000 cubic feet, that's$16 worth of helium. So, let's say you wanted to invest $10,000 in helium; you'd need 614 cylinders of it. Hoophy So, let's say you wanted to invest$10,000 in helium; you'd need 614 cylinders of it.

Yeah, that is NOT reasonable at all! Unless there is going to be a tank crisis, which I doubt. Thanks for satiating my curiosity russ_watters!

russ_watters
SteamKing
Staff Emeritus
Homework Helper
Yeah, that is NOT reasonable at all! Unless there is going to be a tank crisis, which I doubt. Thanks for satiating my curiosity russ_watters!
Obviously, when used in industrial quantities, gases like helium are not always furnished in individual bottles.

If you look at an industrial gas supplier, like Linde, you'll see that they offer several different types of containers for on-site gas storage other than bottles:

http://www.linde-gas.com/en/products_and_supply/supply_modes/index.html

The bottles are useful when only a small amount of gas is needed. Storing larger quantities will mean using different methods, including cryogenically as a liquid to save space and reduce container size and storage pressure.

rbelli1
Gold Member
Storing it cryogenically will not be economic over any kind of duration. Either you need a large continuous supply of liquid Helium or you need a large supply of energy and a smaller stream of liquid.

He is not reasonably storable as anything other than a compressed gas at more that a handful of K.

BoB

PS: I once saw a 40' cylinder of liquid HE sitting all by it's lonesome at a port. I looked like they were treating it as dangerous goods.

Hoophy
SteamKing
Staff Emeritus
Homework Helper
Storing it cryogenically will not be economic over any kind of duration. Either you need a large continuous supply of liquid Helium or you need a large supply of energy and a smaller stream of liquid.

He is not reasonably storable as anything other than a compressed gas at more that a handful of K.

BoB

PS: I once saw a 40' cylinder of liquid HE sitting all by it's lonesome at a port. I looked like they were treating it as dangerous goods.
The folks who make cryogenic dewars would tend to disagree with you. You can find standard sizes up to 1000 L and custom sizes to 5000 L. Loss rates as low as 0.5%. DOT approved for shipment on a variety of commercial carriers including aircraft.

http://www.cryofab.com/products/cmsh_series

256bits
Gold Member
PS: I once saw a 40' cylinder of liquid HE sitting all by it's lonesome at a port. I looked like they were treating it as dangerous goods.

That is because it is a Dangerous Goods. UN1046 , UN 1963
Under IATA Regs, or ICAO, classified as a non-flammable gas if compressed, or a non-flammable gas /cryogenic liquid if cooled to liquid state and stored in a container that off-gases at a controlled pressure. Maximum container size for the cryogenic case allowed on an aircraft - passenger 50 kg, freight aircraft - 500 kg.

Other modes of transport can accept larger containers.

So, yeah, treat it as a Dangerous Goods.

russ_watters
Mentor
The folks who make cryogenic dewars would tend to disagree with you. You can find standard sizes up to 1000 L and custom sizes to 5000 L. Loss rates as low as 0.5%.
That's 0.5% per day. At that rate, in a year (7 month if that is % of full) the OP's investment principal will have all but evaporated.

Hoophy
SteamKing
Staff Emeritus
Homework Helper
That's 0.5% per day. At that rate, in a year the OP's investment principal will have all but evaporated.
The thing about trying to make money with commodities is don't get stuck carrying physical inventory of a material which is perishable or subject to wild price fluctuations. Most commodities brokers have the good sense to trade in paper, i.e. futures contracts, where someone else gets to store and deliver the goods to fulfill the contract. You can lose real money trying to rent warehouses and other storage facilities, not to mention arranging for shipment of the goods to their ultimate destination.

Maybe helium prices can only go up (pun intended), but it seems like there are enough sources of the material available that this is not likely to occur in the near future. The development of new technology made production of oil and gas from less than ideal sources practical, and since helium is a by-product of natural gas production, some additional supplies probably have become available. The U.S. was ready to let its helium reserve and associated infrastructure wither away until recently, but changed policy before this occurred. Most of the U.S. stockpile of helium came from a handful of states, but there are indications that helium could be produced in other regions of the country should the need arise.

As the OP commented earlier, most of the information you find about helium shortages and whatnot seems to be hyped up to induce the unwary into investing in a commodity where there is a lot of potential downside and not much upside.

Hoophy
russ_watters
Mentor
The thing about trying to make money with commodities is don't get stuck carrying physical inventory of a material which is perishable or subject to wild price fluctuations.
That's fine/understood, it just isn't the topic we were discussing.

CWatters
Homework Helper
Gold Member
I think i read somewhere that the US stockpile made a loss for many years. If they can't make money who can.

Hoophy
jim hardy
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
For an individual, Common Sense dictates bet against EPA.

A friend bought a lifetime supply of Freon 22 , about twenty-five of those green 30 lb cylinders, when they cost ~ $20. Now you are required to have an EPA license to handle the stuff and a single 30 lb tank costs several hundred bucks.. "$100 a pound" is the going rate for it in the retail service trade.

He'll be able to can keep his whole family in airconditioning for decades and teach his grandkids air-conditioning repair. Sure beats buying them video games..

SteamKing
Staff Emeritus
Homework Helper
For an individual, Common Sense dictates bet against EPA.

A friend bought a lifetime supply of Freon 22 , about twenty-five of those green 30 lb cylinders, when they cost ~ $20. Now you are required to have an EPA license to handle the stuff and a single 30 lb tank costs several hundred bucks.. "$100 a pound" is the going rate for it in the retail service trade.
View attachment 101631

He'll be able to can keep his whole family in airconditioning for decades and teach his grandkids air-conditioning repair. Sure beats buying them video games..
Only as long as older refrigeration equipment is still around which uses R-22. While the manufacture of new supplies of R-22 has been banned in most developed countries which signed the Montreal Protocol, the use of existing equipment and supplies of the gas is permitted under certain circumstances, but the manufacture of R-22 still continues in the developing world because it is a cheap refrigerant.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chlorodifluoromethane

In the EU, for example, older refrigeration equipment which still uses R-22 must be replaced with systems capable of using newer refrigerants when the equipment gets broken and needs more than just a recharge of refrigerant to put it back into service.

It's not like refrigeration has been phased out as a trade. Once, industrial refrigeration used nasty chemicals like ammonia, sulfur dioxide, and methyl chloride to make things cold, but these substances were unsuitable for use in household systems and were replaced by Freon, not that they were much missed after this occurred.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vapor-compression_refrigeration

Some of the older systems soldiered on for decades using the older refrigerants without incident, but I seem to recall one time where a fire broke out at an old ice house in New Orleans whose system still used either ammonia or sulfur dioxide and was a true relic. The fire fighters had their hands full trying to fight the fire and keep a large spill of the refrigerant from occurring into nearby neighborhoods which could have endangered the residents.

jim hardy
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
In the EU, for example, older refrigeration equipment which still uses R-22 must be replaced with systems capable of using newer refrigerants when the equipment gets broken and needs more than just a recharge of refrigerant to put it back into service.

Even here in US it is against regulations to just recharge a leaky Freon 22 system, you must find and fix the leak. The EPA license study guide addresses the limits on leakage .

And I don't argue against that logic.
It's not just the old adage "Anything worth doing is worth doing well"
but Freon 22 costs more than Porterhouse steak. Don't waste it !

... tanks don't typically leak by an appreciable amount.
...
I did a little research on this: A common cylinder size (K) holds 217 cubic feet of helium at 2200 psi (9" dia, 5' tall, 135lb). At $75/1000 cubic feet, that's$16 worth of helium. So, let's say you wanted to invest \$10,000 in helium; you'd need 614 cylinders of it.
This is not an engineering concern, but a financial one:
You have to buy that helium at the purchase price, and then sell it at the price the market will buy from you at. There is always a bid-ask spread. If you bought Helium at commercial prices, you are paying above the commodity price. And then you have to sell that helium back to the market ... probably to the supplier you bought from. And anyone who works with chemicals knows you mostly pay for the certificate of analysis, and the reliability of the source. Which as a person storing the helium, you can no longer stand behind. Unless you have the ability to measure helium purity.

Those are all financial concerns. But:
1. Start with today's cost for helium and pick a future cost increase. Just guess - we're not going to get into that prediction.
2. Decide based on the current and future price how much you want to buy and store.
3. Research storage methods. For example, can you just buy standard cylinders and stack them in a shed? How many would it take?
The future price has to take into account that the price someone will pay for a commodity is not the same as the price someone will pay for a prepared chemical. And there really is no commodity market for ANY precisely defined chemical. Gasoline ... sure, any 85 octane gasoline is relatively the same. But a 99.999% NaCl is different from a 99.9999% NaCl. Commodities are basic raw materials which are generally "fungible". A tank of helium is "fungible" only with other tanks of the same grade of helium.

Any time you take ANYTHING away from the market, and then later want to sell it back into that market, you must take into account the validation.

Hoophy, russ_watters and anorlunda
Hi, what happens to a cilinder of liquid helium when it heats up to room temperature?

Thanks, Daan

Hoophy