In DepthECONOMIC GEOLOGY

Massive helium fields found in rift zone of Tanzania

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Science  08 Jul 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6295, pp. 109-110
DOI: 10.1126/science.353.6295.109

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Summary

A mineral exploration company called Helium One says it has found three massive fields of helium gas in Tanzania that might be big enough to supply the world with helium for decades. But experts say the fields might not be worth developing anytime soon. Helium is the world's best coolant; in liquid form, its ultralow boiling point of 4 K makes it invaluable for keeping scientific and medical equipment extremely cold. It comes from Earth's crust, where radioactive uranium and thorium in rocks emit helium nuclei when they decay. Helium One hopes to raise $40 million to start drilling in Tanzania in 2017, but the company may struggle to enter a world market that has recently swung from shortage to surplus thanks to conservation by helium users and to stepped-up output by producers such as the United States, Qatar, and Russia.