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  (Source: Twitter)
Alternative power source might be a good idea if it wasn't for record helium shortages

Altaeros Energies is taking greenwashing to a new height with the debut of its bulbous helium filled Airborne Wind Turbine (AWT).  The company looks to replace one depletable resource that comes out of the ground (oil/coal) with another even scarcer resource that comes out of the ground (helium).

The company writes:

The company recently completed testing of a 35-foot scale prototype of the Altaeros Airborne Wind Turbine (AWT) at the Loring Commerce Center in Limestone, Maine. The prototype, fabricated in partnership with Doyle Sailmakers of Salem, Massachusetts, achieved several key milestones. The AWT climbed up 350 feet high, produced power at altitude, and landed in an automated cycle. In addition, the prototype lifted the top-selling Southwest Skystream turbine to produce over twice the power at high altitude than generated at conventional tower height. The turbine was successfully transported and deployed into the air from a towable docking trailer.

Altaeros is developing its first product to reduce energy costs by up to 65 percent by harnessing the stronger winds found over 1,000 feet high and reducing installation time from weeks to days. In addition, it is designed to have virtually no environmental or noise impact and to require minimal maintenance. The Altaeros AWT will displace expensive fuel used to power diesel generators at remote industrial, military, and village sites. In the long term, Altaeros plans to scale up the technology to reduce costs in the offshore wind market.

A glowing view by Inhabitat paints Altaeros as some sort of jedi messiahs, writing, "In an effort to harness strong high-altitude winds, the company Altaeros Energies has developed a floating wind turbine that’s a cross between a traditional windmill and a blimp. After some successful tests, the Altaeros team is confident that this new levitating wind turbine will be a viable clean energy option for remote villages and military sites."

Altaeros turbine
 The AWT -- a wonderfully non-green invention. [Image Source: Altaeros Energies]

Altaeros founder, CEO, and AWT inventor Ben Glass brags of his "levitating" turbines, "For decades, wind turbines have required cranes and huge towers to lift a few hundred feet off the ground where winds can be slow and gusty.  We are excited to demonstrate that modern inflatable materials can lift wind turbines into more powerful winds almost everywhere—with a platform that is cost competitive and easy to setup from a shipping container."

The platform is built upon helium -- a scarce natural resource mined out of the ground.

Helium supplies are running so low that it is estimated it may run out within 30 years.  Aside from the environmental impact of drilling to extract helium from gas pockets in the Earth's crust, there's the issue that much of the most critical physics and chemistry research relies on helium.  The helium crunch has literally led to millions of dollars in lost productivity at research centers such as CERN's Large Hadron Collider.

But no worries.  Let's take the last of our helium and float it up in big blimps with wind turbines attached.  Clearly this deserves some sort of prize for intellectual excellence.

Floating upwards toward fail! [Image Source: Altaeros Energies]

Sources: Altaeros Energies [PDF], Inhabitat, CTV

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By FITCamaro on 3/30/2012 8:18:10 AM , Rating: 4
But no worries. Let's take the last of our helium and float it up in big blimps with wind turbines attached. Clearly this deserves some sort of prize for intellectual excellence.

How is this any different than wanting to use rare resources like lithium and other rare earth metals to power hundreds of millions of cars?

RE: Well....yeah
By Manch on 3/30/2012 8:44:12 AM , Rating: 5
It's not. Both are stupid ideas.

RE: Well....yeah
By mcnabney on 3/30/2012 9:34:35 AM , Rating: 3
Batteries for electric cars would be 100% recycled.

Also, they could use hydrogen instead of helium.

RE: Well....yeah
By kattanna on 3/30/12, Rating: 0
RE: Well....yeah
By Motoman on 3/30/2012 11:23:37 AM , Rating: 2
RE: Well....yeah
By HrilL on 3/30/2012 11:47:19 AM , Rating: 2
Hydrogen is plenty safe. The problem with the Hindenburg happened to be that the paint they used was basically rocket fuel. Even without using hydrogen it would have ended in disaster at some point because of that.

Hydrogen can be used safely. At 1000ft the winds would dissipate any small leaks before it could reach any type of flames. Also no people would be on one of these wind turbines so they only danger would be falling debris.

RE: Well....yeah
By stusanagain on 3/30/2012 12:40:43 PM , Rating: 4
The problem with the Hindenburg happened to be that the paint they used was basically rocket fuel.
Myth. Mythbusters tried to duplicate that idea and failed miserably. Much as you would like it not to be the hydrogen, it was the hydrogen.

On the other hand, I agree that hydrogen is the lift element of choice here. Besides, if there is a farm of these turbines and one does catch fire, maybe it would cause a chain reaction and the whole farm would go up. MWA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!

RE: Well....yeah
By DopeFishhh on 3/30/2012 7:49:44 PM , Rating: 4
They concluded that it was a combination of both.

But yeah its easier to get and control hydrogen because it forms H2 which is much larger than HE and doesn't leak through materials (not as much at least).

You could always try a combination of H2 and HE, if there was tear you'd get both leaking out, not only would there be less H2 by volume but it'd be in a partially inert HE environment.

RE: Well....yeah
By MarkHark on 3/31/2012 10:57:02 PM , Rating: 2
the whole farm would go up

Or more appropriately, in this case, down... :P

RE: Well....yeah
By lagomorpha on 3/30/2012 5:16:04 PM , Rating: 3
That is exactly what i thought, these are unmanned. If one goes up in flames in the middle of nowhere now and then what's the problem?

RE: Well....yeah
By Calin on 4/2/2012 3:04:08 AM , Rating: 2
Because Helium in atmosphere will evade Earth's gravity field, unlike Lithium and so on in batteries which can be recycled. Just like iron is recycled (except that iron is so very inexpensive that one can obtain profits only by recycling it by the truckload)

RE: Well....yeah
By Nexos on 3/30/2012 8:52:06 AM , Rating: 4
Lithium, like most metals, can be recycled relatively easily without loosing any of its desired properties, so in essence "only" enough lithium is needed to saturate the battery market, afterwards all the required lithium could be taken from dead battery packs (assuming 100% efficiency during recycling, not realistic I know). Helium when used for cooling is also recycled with about a 95% efficiency (check out , a great vid about LHe) Helium used to fill balloons on the other hand is forever lost to us. Since its molecules are so small, they constantly leak thru the skin of any balloon and due to their low weight they float to the top of our atmosphere, where they are carried off into space by the solar wind.

Filling these thing with He seems like a colossal waste, even more so when you consider they could be filled with hydrogen just as easily, albeit slightly less safely.

RE: Well....yeah
By deathwombat on 3/30/2012 8:57:03 AM , Rating: 4
Yes, I can't see any reason not to use hydrogen. In the worst case scenario, there's never going to be a Hindenburg moment. "Oh the humanity! Wait, these things are unmanned. Never mind."

RE: Well....yeah
By docawolff on 3/30/2012 9:31:24 AM , Rating: 2
I agree--not only can we do a better job of designing hydrogen airships than we did back in 1930, but as a bonus, hydrogen has twice the buoyancy of helium. H2: .0902 grams/liter (at 0 C and 1 atm), He: 0.1785 grams per liter (same conditions). For reference, air: 1.294 grams/liter.

RE: Well....yeah
By theapparition on 3/30/2012 9:35:19 AM , Rating: 5
Hydrogen does make more sense in a lighter than air vehicle. The biggest problem with Helium, is that the molecule is physically smaller than Hydrogen. Hydrogen, by nature, is diatomic, or H2. It's diatomic molecule is physically larger than a single He atom. Hence there is less leakage and obviously less gas usage can only improve efficiencies somewhere.

Everyone is familiar with typical Helium party balloons that deflate after a few days. That's because even now there aren't good solutions for non-helium permeable materials. Even the best of fabrics will allow some helium escape over time. But using H2 and lower cost fabrics could drastically improve the cost ratio.

Unfortunately, like the word "nuclear"......hydrogen is such a bad word. I only wish we could live in a society where people didn't have knee jerk reactions to things.

RE: Well....yeah
By zozzlhandler on 3/30/2012 12:40:57 PM , Rating: 2
If you think hydrogen doesn't leak easily, you are mistaken. The problems dealing with hydrogen leakage are easily as severe as those with helium.

That said, for unmanned applications, hydrogen is an obvious candidate...

RE: Well....yeah
By JediJeb on 3/30/2012 3:22:05 PM , Rating: 2
One thing that would be even better than Hydrogen that I have yet to see any research on is using vacuum. It would require that an ultra light ultra rigid material be developed, but if you can design a material that would hold the shape of this lifting vehicle while not collapsing with a vacuum inside that would generate even more lift than hydrogen of helium.

I know we are probably still a long way from finding a material to accomplish this, but I have not even seen any mention of the idea even in theory yet.

RE: Well....yeah
By MarkHark on 3/31/2012 10:55:25 PM , Rating: 2
No problem. To have heard of this "in theory", you would likely have to be either a student on aeronautical engineering or an active researcher on this field.

That said, not being an engineer myself, I have pondered on this exact same point you speak of one or two decades back, and basically reached the same conclusions as you did.

So, I believe you are correct, and right to the point: the core of the problem is the structure must be rigid and strong enough to support a pressure gradient of ~1 atm without collapsing, yet be as light or lighter than an equivalent volume of hydrogen (or helium at least).

As to the material itself, my best guess in a foreseeable future would be some kind of carbon fiber for the rigid part of the structure (think of it as an endoskeleton), covered externally by a tightly-woven tissue composed mainly of thin, spiderweb-like organic fibers, and perhaps some kind of resin or plastic bath for the sake of impermeabilization.

On a (far) later time point, I'd hope for some kind of matter-repelling energy field, but that is just wild speculation on my part. :)

RE: Well....yeah
By superPC on 3/30/2012 9:32:07 AM , Rating: 2
Well if they fly them high enough even if it's filled with hydrogen it won't hurt anyone if it burns to a crisp. Someone might get hurt if hit by falling debris though, but if it was offshore than no problem there.

On other note: did anyone else notice Jason becomes more cynical these days?

RE: Well....yeah
By Reclaimer77 on 3/31/2012 9:54:41 AM , Rating: 1
On other note: did anyone else notice Jason becomes more cynical these days?

More like a realist. This is literally the DUMBEST "green" idea that's come down the pipe in a long time. But hey, with the Government tossing riches anyone's way who comes up with "alternative" solutions, even on the most fundamentally flawed level, why not?

I love the way Jason closed out this article with that nice punchline. Loved it.

RE: Well....yeah
By Qapa on 3/30/2012 9:14:34 AM , Rating: 1
Or even mining for oil.

All are finite materials.

All are good/acceptable ideas to start with. We then must keep track of the impacts each solution brings to the table.

We know that in 500 years, oil will no longer be sustaining our lifestyle, not as we currently use it anyway. And the same may be applicable for lithium for batteries or helium for this project. Preferably we can find solutions that have less of an impact than the current oil solution...

RE: Well....yeah
By geddarkstorm on 3/30/2012 11:53:57 AM , Rating: 2
Oil can be resynthesized, lithium and iron can be recycled, and all the matter (atoms) themselves stay on Earth even if they get recombined into new compounds. Helium is a very different story. Helium is lost to space and cannot and does not exist as a gas in our atmosphere naturally. We have to get helium from the ground in gas pockets. But once that's all used up, -natural helium on Earth will be gone forever-. In theory we could produce helium using fusion in the future, but that isn't happening any time soon.

RE: Well....yeah
By Stiggalicious on 3/30/2012 10:01:04 AM , Rating: 3
Lithium is not a rare resource - it's found in the ocean in quite large quantities and can easily be extracted. It's the rare earth metals that are rare and only available from China right now.

RE: Well....yeah
By Keeir on 3/30/2012 12:23:10 PM , Rating: 2
Even rare earth metals are not really that rare.

Just expensive and potentially polluting to dig up and refine. The majority of rare earth metals take significant processing to be effective.

RE: Well....yeah
By Kazinji on 3/31/2012 12:22:48 AM , Rating: 2
There are other places with rare earth metals but china ran them out of business. And now has jacked up the price and limited export of tons per year.

RE: Well....yeah
By someguy123 on 3/31/2012 7:17:55 AM , Rating: 2
...china never ran them out of business. there was no business until recently. no one could manage to get funding for mining out of fear of pollution. china paid to have rare earth mined since the 90s.

RE: Well....yeah
By Keeir on 3/30/2012 12:42:51 PM , Rating: 2
How is this any different than wanting to use rare resources like lithium and other rare earth metals to power hundreds of millions of cars?

#1. Rare Earth Metals are not required by a Lithium Electric Car. The NiMH battery type currently used in a Prius, does indeed need significant rare earth metals. Some types of electric motors do use Rare Earth Metals (Including the current Chevy Volt motor), but others do not.

The Model S, a beautiful, practical, albiet still too expensive model, uses almost no rare earth metals

#2. Lithium is hardly rare either. The reserves for the "easy" to get Lithium Carbonate Salts is around 13 million tonnes. Enough for more than 1 billion electric cars.

Lithium batteries are nearly 100% recyclable

#3. Electric cars wouldn't need to use a specific battery chemisty. Lithium batteries are significantly better than NiMH, Lead Acid, and other types current available for a variety of applications.... but better batteries could be invented in the future.

In comparison, these balloons use

#1 A gas already in short supply (apparently)
#2 A gas that can't be recycled
#3 The lightest possible gas

RE: Well....yeah
By FaaR on 3/30/2012 1:15:12 PM , Rating: 2
Huge difference, because lithium doesn't permeate through the casing of the battery and escape the earth's gravitational pull entirely, which helium does. Batteries can be reclaimed, their contents recycled.

Besides, what better use for lithium is there (other than as medication for wackos like you...? :P) Fossile-fueled cars are clearly killing both us and our environment.

RE: Well....yeah
By B~ on 3/30/2012 8:11:57 PM , Rating: 3
Helium on Earth is found in only a few places, like the midwest, I believe Kansas has it in abundance. It gets trapped in the same pockets in the Earth that natural gas does.

Earth's endowment of Helium comes from the radioactive decay of elements in the Earth's crust. When you hold a balloon you are basically holding a bag of alpha particles.

Helium is so light that it escapes the Earth's atomosphere, so once its released there is no way to get it back. Accordingly, you cannot refine or recover helium from the air, unlike the other gasses found in the air like nitrogen, or even some of the nobel gasses.

Helium is used in very special applications like cooling hospital imaging equipment, manufacturing LCD screens and microprocessors, and even high-tec specialized welding.

In summary it's an irreplaceable, nonrenewable, nonrecycleable resource that has dear uses to society. It's also somewhat ironic that it is scarce on Earth, because it is the second most abundent element in the known universe.

RE: Well....yeah
By B~ on 3/30/2012 8:31:22 PM , Rating: 3
In addition the the irony of the scarcity of helium on Earth and the abundence of it in the universe, I find it poetic that the universe's helium is the result of fusion, and the Earth's is the result of fission.

RE: Well....yeah
By MarkHark on 3/31/2012 11:06:36 PM , Rating: 2
I'd give you a +1, but I already posted elsewhere in this thread.

By AnnihilatorX on 3/30/2012 8:18:14 AM , Rating: 3
I blame the shortage of helium on excessive playground helium balloons ;P

Well to be serious, this article is sensational. Current reserve may run out in 30 years, but there are unproven reserves of up to 1000 times current reserve in US alone base on The Impact of Selling the Federal Helium Reserve, page 47.

RE: shortage
By Amedean on 3/30/2012 8:38:21 AM , Rating: 2

This design is unique and I would encourage research rather than poke fun of engineers testing designs.

RE: shortage
By JasonMick on 3/30/2012 9:07:26 AM , Rating: 3
Well to be serious, this article is sensational.

Not really, it's a real issue, learn what you're talking about before you write such nonsense....

"Why the world is running out of helium"

Professor Richardson co-chaired an inquiry into the impending helium shortage convened by the influential US National Research Council, an arm of the US National Academy of Sciences. This report, which has just been published, recommends that the US Government should revisit and reconsider its policy of selling off the US national helium reserve.

"They couldn't sell it fast enough and the world price for helium gas is ridiculously cheap," Professor Richardson told a summer meeting of Nobel laureates from around the world at Lindau in Germany. "You might at first think it will be peculiarly an American topic because the sources of helium are primarily in the US but I assure you it matters of the rest of the world also," he said.

Professor Richardson believes the price for helium should rise by between 20- and 50-fold to make recycling more worthwhile. Nasa, for instance, makes no attempt to recycle the helium used to clean is rocket fuel tanks, one of the single biggest uses of the gas.

"Helium shortage not a gas as labs postpone 'optimal' work on grey matter"

Ray Dolan, a professor at UCL's Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, said that the college had stopped taking bookings for its scanner after its supplier, BOC, said it could not guarantee how much helium it could provide. "It is rendering programmes that are funded very, very problematic and there's great uncertainty," he said.

"Helium stocks run low – and party balloons are to blame"

Oleg Kirichek, the leader of a research team at the Isis neutron beam facility at the UK's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, had an unpleasant shock last week. One of his key experiments, designed to probe the structure of matter, had to be cancelled – because the facility had run out of helium.

The gas, used to cool atoms to around -270C to reduce their vibrations and make them easier to study, is now becoming worryingly scarce, said Kirichek. Research facilities probing the structure of matter, medical scanners and other advanced devices that use the gas may soon have to reduce operations or close because we are frittering away the world's limited supplies of helium on party balloons.

"It costs £30,000 a day to operate our neutron beams, but for three days we had no helium to run our experiments on those beams," said Kirichek. "In other words we wasted £90,000 because we couldn't get any helium. Yet we put the stuff into party balloons and let them float off into the upper atmosphere, or we use it to make our voices go squeaky for a laugh. It is very, very stupid. It makes me really angry."

"Helium shortage could deflate Valentine's Day sales"

Bennie Sparrow, owner of Balloons Above Orange in Hillsborough, said she has only one tank of helium to fill balloons for Valentine's Day next Tuesday. The tank can fill about 600 balloons, and she said she can get orders for up to 1,000 balloons for the holiday.

"There's just no way we can run a balloon business without helium," Sparrow said.

Very few of the display balloons in her store are filled with helium so she can conserve her limited supply for customer orders. She's also increased her prices in recent months to pass along the higher cost of helium.

If the helium supply situation doesn't improve, Sparrow said, it could put her and other small balloon stores out of business.

While it's true there may be some sort of terrestrial untapped sources (as with coal, oil, and natural gas, of course), the reality is that if there are such sources:

a) Extracting them will have a major environmental impact.

b) They will likely be harder/more expensive to extract than the U.S. source and other existing deposits.


a) Virtually any balloon design (this one almost certainly included) "bleeds" helium. Thus, this balloon would almost surely need refills to stay afloat.

b) Even space age balloons are fragile and prone to damage over a 5 year period, let alone the 30 year or more life of your average power plant.

c) Helium is extremely expensive.

Thus this design will almost certainly be orders of magnitude more expensive than traditional fossil fuel power, and arguably have a worse environmental impact in terms of research extraction, as well as having the peripheral effect of hindering scientific research.

So, again seriously what is the point? How can you defend this?

Now I know you fancy yourself far brighter than Nobel laureate researchers who are experts on this topic and economists, but if you're going to try to show how foolish they are, at least bring some serious evidence.

Do some reading before blowing hot air (pun intended).

RE: shortage
By mcnabney on 3/30/2012 9:39:02 AM , Rating: 2
Use hydrogen.

Problem solved

RE: shortage
By themelon on 3/30/2012 11:58:01 AM , Rating: 2
Hydrogen in a party balloon sure would make it more fun. A fireball instead of just a pop when you get it to close to the cake!

RE: shortage
By geddarkstorm on 3/30/2012 12:09:11 PM , Rating: 2
Hydrogen can't be used for everything. Liquid helium is used to cool the superconductive magnet in my lab. That's a temperature around 4 Kelvin, with a liquid nitrogen sheath to keep the helium from catastrophically boiling. But even if it did, the worst that would happen is someone could get knocked unconscious until the emergency fans turned on to drag oxygen back into the room.

Liquid hydrogen on the other hand is too hot to keep the magnet superconducting, with a temperature of 20 Kelvin. It is also basically rocket fuel, and so reactive (all it needs is 4% air, yes, AIR not pure oxygen, and a very small energy source to ignite) it cannot be used with this machine unless we wish to explode the entire biology department sky high, and that is not a joke.

Liquid hydrogen has to be handled very differently, and all air must be constantly kept away from it--something absolutely impossible for our equipment and experiments. And again, this is ignoring the fact liquid hydrogen is 10x hotter than liquid helium, and completely useless for what we do in the first place.

For many, many research applications, helium is irreplaceable. And we are indeed running out, which bodes ill for the research of my lab and others like it. That's why people like we see in this article need to switch to hydrogen gas, as you say, and stop wasting our precious helium.

RE: shortage
By abel2 on 3/30/2012 1:38:17 PM , Rating: 1
Last time I checked they didn't inflate balloons with liquid helium or liquid hydrogen. So I ask, what exactly is the point of your comment? Hydrogen is basically an infinite resource and needs to be utilized where it is deemed appropriate.

In an unmanned vehicle flying 1000 feet in the air around uncongested areas seems very appropriate to me. Plus, from looking at the picture, the actual turbine is so far away from the blimp that any leak would almost instantly be dissipated into the atmosphere. i.e. harmless. It would react instantly with atmospheric oxygen to form water.

Yes, the reaction produces heat, but there would not be enough hydrogen leaking out of this blimp to spontaneously combust.

RE: shortage
By JediJeb on 3/30/2012 2:17:57 PM , Rating: 2
Last time I checked they didn't inflate balloons with liquid helium or liquid hydrogen.

What you said makes sense except for this. It takes gaseous helium to make liquid helium, so in reality they are filling the balloons with the exact same thing.

In our lab, we have to use Helium because the EPA will not update their methods for chemical analysis to include the ability to switch from helium to hydrogen in the chromatographs. What is really sad is hydrogen works better but when used with a mass spectrometer it gives a slightly different mass signature, which can be standardized to compensate for yet the EPA forces us to use the mass signature that can only come from using helium. We could save thousands of dollars a year if we could switch from helium to hydrogen which could reduce the cost of testing everything from safe drinking water to hazardous waste, if only EPA would get off their duffs and ok the changes.

They did the same thing with freon, we had tests that required freon as a solvent, then they outlawed freon before they found a replacement in the testing procedures. We were spending $500 for freon on what we had been charging $15 per test before the ban. Plus the EPA would not forgo the requirement for that test so we had waste water plants and drinking water plants that had to bear the extra cost for a year until EPA approved hexane as a replacement.

RE: shortage
By Reclaimer77 on 3/30/2012 6:41:03 PM , Rating: 1
We were spending $500 for freon on what we had been charging $15 per test before the ban.

Have you bought R-22 lately? It's hitting $100/per pound! Thanks Obama and the EPA! I love paying 4 times more than before to get my AC serviced.

RE: shortage
By Ringold on 3/30/2012 8:43:41 PM , Rating: 2
Apply all those same bureaucratic problems to health care, and every other program, and.. its obvious to same why "less is more" seems a good idea to some. Other people though see no problem with such bottlenecks and inherent inefficiencies.

Indeed, you illustrate an absolutely perfect example of why central planners can NEVER possibly know how individual actors should go about their business better than those individuals do themselves.

RE: shortage
By wiz220 on 3/30/2012 4:06:00 PM , Rating: 4

I think he might have been referring to the fact that your article, while providing many true and factual statements, was also unnecessarily sarcastic and unprofessional.

RE: shortage
By TSS on 3/31/2012 11:13:26 AM , Rating: 2
I'm sorry but it's necessary to ridicule stupidity when it is so obvious. Ohterwise somebody might get the idea that stupidity is actually acceptable.

And considering the links jason linked i doubt the research into the story was any less then professional then other news outlets would've done. In fact, i'd rate it much higher compared to the articles i read on CNN on a regular basis.

And professional does not mean "unbiased". It means "honest". As you are always dealing with humans, you're always dealing with oppinions, wether it's a company or a personal oppinion. Usually honest includes unbiased. But in this case, it's honestly stupid, thus more professional to ridicule said stupidity.

Or would you'd rather have a CNN article about this that glorifies the "green" aspect, because the company said it was green?

RE: shortage
By MarkHark on 3/31/2012 11:37:59 PM , Rating: 2
Helium shortage not a gas

Helium shortage could deflate Valentine's Day

bad puns anyone?

Alpha radiation
By dgingerich on 3/30/2012 12:00:48 PM , Rating: 2
There is a major way to fix this: alpha radiation.

Alpha radiation is a product of alpha decay. Basically, a radioactive element sheds 2 protons and 2 neutron, a helium nucleus, to become another element. Most fission reactor waste sheds this kind of radiation.

Couple this with beta radiation, which is basically an electron, putting one kind in one chamber and an alpha emitter in another chamber, shielded by lead with a conductive wire between them. The electrons would be slowed down and caught by the lead and carried over to the alpha emitter chamber, where the helium nucleus would pick them up, becoming full helium.

Harvest the electric current that is produced between them into batteries, and harvest the helium that is produced in that process. Then introduce the batteries into the power grid in a controlled way to increase our power production. This way, we harvest the energy emitted by nuclear waste, have extra electrical power, and have a steady supply of helium. Problems solved.

The tricky part is refining and separating the alpha and beta emitters from the nuclear waste in a safe manner. That could be a little tough, but not too tough. Introduce an acid into the nuclear waste that would dissolve one kind of element, drain off the resulting solution, wash it and then introduce another acid that will dissolve the other type. (It could be alpha first and beta later, or vice versa, whichever works better.) No need to melt it down. Another problem can be solved with this: the waste can then be recycled more easily and be put back into nuclear reactors.

Our nuclear reactors become the recycling center, with added efficiency, and become our supply for helium. No problem.

RE: Alpha radiation
By geddarkstorm on 3/30/2012 12:13:18 PM , Rating: 2
Hate to say it, but as ingenious as that idea may be, it's more realistic to hold out for nuclear fusion (fusing deuteriums to make helium) for producing helium than that method.

RE: Alpha radiation
By JediJeb on 3/31/2012 11:21:17 PM , Rating: 2
The worst part of the plan really is the separation of the waste products. It is not as simple as acid washing, or else Iran would already have tons of refined Uranium on hand. You can separate some metals from others by acid suitabilities but most will dissolve in multiple acids.

RE: Alpha radiation
By MarkHark on 3/31/2012 11:31:58 PM , Rating: 2
Taking into account the amount of nuclear waste producing every year in a nuclear facility, and the slow decay rate of most radioactive isotopes, I would bet we're talking grams, or perhaps kilograms, of helium produced every year, while our needs would be more likely in the range of thousands of tons.

Hot air?
By Gunbuster on 3/30/2012 9:27:40 AM , Rating: 2
Could they paint it black, fill it with hot air and then use solar heating to keep it aloft?

RE: Hot air?
By Motoman on 3/30/2012 10:06:30 AM , Rating: 2
I would imagine that radiative loss at those altitudes would make such a plan impossible. It's f%cking cold up there.

RE: Hot air?
By MarkHark on 3/31/2012 11:21:54 PM , Rating: 2
Then every night it would go down?

Kites are better
By garidan on 3/30/2012 11:14:27 AM , Rating: 2
Look at the brght side.
By Concillian on 3/30/2012 2:04:21 PM , Rating: 2
Nothing happens in our modern society without an economic incentive. Well, very little anyway.

So the quicker we use up all the helium, the quicker cold fusion gains economic feasibility to dump corporate research money into. I mean, if we could figure out this cold fusion thing, then we'll have more helium than we'd ever need and hydrogen we didn't have to crack from water would be more valuable.

Looks just like a giant...
By bupkus on 3/30/2012 6:34:23 PM , Rating: 2
Looks just like a giant...

"Beaver, did you do your homework"? Look, dad, its...


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