10 Things to Know About Helium - Tanzania's New Chemical Wealth


Enormous deposits of helium--estimated at 54 billion cubic feet--have been discovered in Tanzania's Rift Valley and could relieve dwindling supplies of the rare gas, which is used in hospitals in MRI scanners as well as in spacecraft, telescopes and radiation monitors. "This is seven times the current global consumption," said Professor Chris Ballentine of Oxford University, one of the researchers working on the project. "This is enough to fill over 1.2 million medical MRI scanners." Here are 10 facts you probably didn't know about Helium - the second element in the periodic table. More about GE in Africa in this BRIEFING.
Photo: GE Healthcare
Scientists from Durham and Oxford universities announced last month that vast resources of the rare Helium gas had been discovered in Tanzania's Great Rift Valley. The discovery, described as game-changer, is set to end concerns over a shortage of gas used in medical diagnosis equipment, mainly MRI and in rocket science. Some independent analysts say the recently discovered helium gas in Lake Rukwa could be worth $3.5 billion.

Researchers discovered large quantities of helium in the Tanzanian East African Rift Valley. Helium is found in much more than just balloons and the periodic table of elements. Here's 10 stats you may or may not have known about this chemical element and why this discovery matters for healthcare.
1.Helium is used in telescopes, spacecrafts and radiation monitors.
2. In the medical world, helium is essential to operate MRI machines.
3. Tremendous amounts of energy flow through the superconducting wire throughout the key component of an MRI system, a powerful magnet cooled to 4.2 kelvin, or 452 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Liquid helium is the only element that is feasible for cooling a magnet to the degree where the superconducting properties of the wire can work.
4. Depending on the type of MRI being produced, a machine may need in the range of several thousand liters of helium stored in a sealed vacuum system surrounding the magnet.
5. There are over 30 million MRI scans performed in the US each year. That's a lot of patients and doctors who need MRI every day for diagnosis.
6. This newly expanded resource from the Tanzanian East African Rift Valley has the potential to fill more than 1.2 million MRI scanners and should continue to support the supply to meet the demand of the industry.
7. There are efforts underway to develop innovative ways to reduce MRI manufacturers' reliance on this element, including an investigational, research device that was developed under a National Institutes of Health Bioengineering Research Partnership between GE Global Research and the Mayo Clinic. This new magnet technology requires only 1% of the liquid helium to operate compared to a conventional system and does not need refilling.
8. Liquefaction is a process used to recapture helium lost during the MRI manufacturing process so it can be reused it—it's essentially a major recycling system.
9. GE Healthcare built a new 5,000-square-foot helium liquefaction facility in Florence, South Carolina to further liquefaction efforts.
10. The U.S. Geological survey estimates that there are about 35 billion cubic meters worth of helium left on the plant with the majority of it coming from the U.S.
10 Things to Know About Helium - Tanzania's New Chemical Wealth 10 Things to Know About Helium - Tanzania's New Chemical Wealth Reviewed by on 11:15:00 PM Rating: 5

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