Scientists have discovered helium reserves in Tanzania that are a “game-changer” in addressing a critical shortage of the vital-yet-rare gas, Oxford University said.
A research group from Oxford and Durham universities in England, working with a Norway-based helium-exploration company, discovered as much as 54 billion cubic feet, or BCf, of the gas in Tanzania’s Rift Valley. The find was the result of a new exploration method that can be applied to other parts of the world with similar geology to find new resources, according to Pete Barry of the Department of Earth Sciences at University of Oxford.
“This is a game changer for the future security of society’s helium needs and similar finds in the future may not be far away,” Professor Chris Ballentine of the Department of Earth Sciences at University of Oxford said in the statement published on its website.
Global helium consumption is about 8 BCf per year and the U.S. Federal Helium Reserve, which is the world’s largest supplier, has just 24.2 BCf. Total known reserves in the U.S. are about 153 BCf, according to the statement.
Helium is critical to many things including medical MRI scanners, welding, industrial-leak detection and nuclear energy and known reserves are quickly running out. Until now, helium has never been found intentionally and is usually discovered accidentally in small quantities during oil and gas drilling, according to the statement.