Most people are unaware that helium is vital to technology, including the very Internet access people use to read this article.
Helium is Fantastic at Cooling
One of the main functions helium provides is being able to cool things down quickly. In fact, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) claims that 32 percent of helium usage is for cryogenic (freezing) applications. Many technologies need this ability to cool down in order to work properly. Technology which provides Internet access requires helium for cryogenic applications. This includes:
- Fiber optics manufacturing — helium is used to cool down fiber optics which goes into cables for data transfer. Fiber optics require an all-helium environment to prevent air bubbles from being trapped in the delicate fibers. Fiber optics are fragile and can break, which is why using helium is vital to the process. Using other methods of cooling would possibly contaminate the fibers, making them unusuable.
- Semiconductor cooling — helium is used to transfer heat away from semiconductors (computer chips) when manufactured. Helium is also used to cool the magnets used in manufacturing the semiconductors. The helium actually transform the magnet into a superconductor, thus making it even more powerful.
Controlling the atmosphere in the manufacturing process and experiments is vitally important, so much so that companies use 18 percent of the annual helium usage to provide that controlled environment. Like the requirement to use helium during fiber optics manufacturing to prevent air bubbles, helium provides a safe and inert way to control the environment in manufacturing and testing different computer components.
How We Use Fiber Optics
Fiber optics is essential for today’s Internet. About 25 percent of today’s Internet is made up of fiber optics and that number is expected to increase as more carriers switch over to the ultra fast fiber optic cables. Unlike copper based technologies such as DSL and broadband cable, fiber optic isn’t limited by electricity and resistance. It works by transmitting data in the form of light, thus giving amazing speeds such as 1 gigabit per second throughput.
Helium is in Demand
People are taught that helium is the second element in the periodic table in their high school chemistry class, but not much in terms of applications. Other than party balloons and speaking with a squeaky voice when inhaling it, most people don’t pay much attention to helium, even though without it, the world would look very different today. Helium is vitally important because it is a nonrenewable resource that is extracted from natural gas. What’s more, in 2015 the world’s demand for helium continues to increase. In 2015 it’s estimated that companies extracted about $900 million dollars worth of helium in the United States alone. During that year, it’s estimated that the world used 1.5 billion cubic feet of helium.
Helium is vitally important for today’s technology, including Internet access. Without helium, people would not have the same level of technology they enjoy today.