The emerging “Helium” crisis in India

What is the News?

India imports the majority of helium for its domestic needs. However, the U.S appears to cut off exports of helium from 2021. Hence, the Indian industry may have to find an alternative.

About Helium:
  • Helium is a chemical element with the symbol He and atomic number 2.
  • It is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, first in the noble gas group in the periodic table. Its boiling point is the lowest among all the elements.
  • Helium is the second lightest and second most abundant element in the observable universe (hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant).
  • The liquified Helium is obtained by cooling the gas to -270 degrees Celsius.
Applications of Helium:
  • Cryogenics: Helium is used as a super coolant for cryogenic applications. It is used in applications such as Magnet Resonance Imaging (MRI), particle accelerator, in rockets, and in nuclear reactors.
  • Aerostatics: The density of helium is lighter than air. Therefore, helium is used as lift gas for balloons, meteorological balloons and airships.
  • Leak Detection: Helium is used for leak detection because helium has the smallest molecular size. It is a monatomic molecule, therefore, helium passes easily through the smallest leaks.
    Monatomic gases: Mono means single. So Monatomic means “Single-atom”. These gases are not bound to each other and are non-reactive in nature. Noble gases are monatomic gases.
  • Semiconductors Manufacturing: Helium is used as the preferred protective gas due to its chemical inertness. Helium is used as cooling gas due to its very high specific heat and thermal conductivity in semiconductor manufacturing.
Helium Exporting Countries:
  • The US became the most important exporter of helium across the world. Large quantities of helium were discovered under the American Great Plains.
  • Qatar is also a possible exporter of Helium. But acute political and diplomatic wrangles have made Qatar unreliable.
India’s Helium Imports:
  • India imports helium for its needs. Every year, India imports helium worth Rs 55,000 crores from the U.S. to meet its needs.
  • However, the US is now planning to switch off the export of helium from 2021. Hence, the Indian Industry needs to find an alternative source of Helium.

Way Forward:

  • India’s Rajmahal volcanic basin in Jharkhand is the storehouse of helium trapped for billions of years.
  • At present, India is mapping the Rajmahal basin extensively for future exploration and harnessing of helium.

Source: The Hindu

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