diffusion coefficient and low viscosity) also make it extremely difficult to store and transport. The Cliffside facility is currently the largest facility in the world for long-term storage of crude helium. Its potential as a storage facility was only recognized, however, because it was a depleted field that was known to have previously contained relatively high helium concentrations (about 1.6 percent). The development of improved storage facilities is important because they would allow production facilities off the BLM pipeline to produce and store larger quantities of helium.

The third area requiring R&D is the development of methods to increase efficiency, conservation, and recycling in helium-dependent technologies and eventually to eliminate the need for helium entirely in some applications. For example, a great deal of progress has already been made in the development of cryocoolers and other technologies to recycle liquid helium and reduce the overall amount consumed. Incremental advances in cryogenic technologies continue to be pursued to reduce helium use further. Advances in technologies that require liquid helium temperatures should also be pursued in order to reduce the need for those temperatures (e.g., by employing high-temperature superconductors). This dual emphasis on incremental improvements in recycling and conservation and the eventual development of alternative technologies that do not require helium should be applied to other helium-based technologies (e.g., purging, welding, and other manufacturing processes) to reduce overall helium consumption even further.

Recommendation: The committee recommends that the Department of the Interior conduct research and development to ensure the continued supply of helium into the future. Goals for this research and development should include (1) new geological models and exploration technologies; (2) improved helium storage systems; and (3) enhanced technologies to conserve, recycle, and eventually replace helium.

The following specific research and development tasks should be considered:

  • Determine the geological characteristics and processes that permit the formation of helium-rich gas fields and develop methodologies and databases to assist in the discovery of these fields.

  • Identify potential sites for natural storage facilities to permit the establishment of new facilities near future major helium producers and to allow an increase in the storage and conservation capabilities of helium users.

  • Develop economic models for the extraction and storage of joint-product, nonrenewable resources the production of one of which is dominated by supply and demand for the other.

  • Improve the efficiency of technologies that currently depend on helium and develop alternative technologies that do not require helium.



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