The world's helium supply is on course to run out within a decade unless we recycle more of the inert gas, an expert has warned.
David Cole-Hamilton, emeritus professor of chemistry at the University of St Andrews, urged people not to have helium balloons at parties as the gas is needed for MRI scanners and deep sea diving.
There is no chemical way of manufacturing helium with the supplies on Earth coming from the slow radioactive alpha decay that occurs in rocks.
The price of helium has surged 500 per cent in the past 15 years as researchers struggle to find more of it.
Professor Cole-Hamilton, said that world supplies of helium were due to run out in 10 years.
He said: “By having helium balloons at your birthday party you may prevent people from having an MRI scan. We are recycling it from the MRI scanners and most of it from deep sea diving, but we are not recycling from the balloons. In both of those applications it's recycled, however helium is very light so if it gets into the atmosphere it can escape.
“If we recycle I think we would be fine, but if we gradually put more balloons up in the atmosphere then the timescale will be shorter."
Professor Cole-Hamilton said that the world had about six years' worth of helium supply from a mine in Tanzania with the rest coming from the US.
Smartphones could become unaffordable if we do not recycle more of the materials in them, he added.
Professor Cole-Hamilton said that Indium, which is currently obtained from zinc ore mining, will be one of the first elements used to make smartphones that will run out at current rates of recycling.
He said: “That ore will run out in about 20 years in the rate we are using it. We will be able to [build mobile phones] but it will become much more expensive. We would have to pay more for it and probably people at the lower end of the economic activity spectrum would find each much more difficult but may they would keep their phones for longer.
“But I think that won't happen because scientists are waking up to the fact that this is a problem.”
Describing what he believes needs to happen to prevents elements such as indium and helium from running out, Professor Cole-Hamilton said: “We have to first of all reduce the number of mobile phones. We exchange one million mobile phones in the UK every month.
“Secondly, we should be able to replace the battery, then we have to recycle all the elements that are in it and we have to look for replacements which are more abundant.”
Asked who was responsible, he said: “The consumer and, of course, the manufacturers because they want to sell more phones so they want you to change your mobile more often. We have to have a proper process for recycling materials.”
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