Helium makes up 25% of the atoms in the known universe, so one would guess that the inert gas would be quite plentiful on Earth.
Unfortunately, a familiar property of helium prevents this from happening. Helium gas is lighter than air and literally rises into space, depleting the Earth of almost all valuable helium resources over time.
Where do we get helium?
So how do we actually obtain new helium gas, which is necessary for important technological applications such as MRI machines, superconductors, and even the Large Hadron Collider?
Today’s infographic from Helium One shows everything you need to know on helium, including where we can find it on Earth, as well as the most important uses of the gas.
Although helium is plentiful in the universe, on Earth it is quite rare and difficult to obtain.
Why Do We Need Helium?
Helium has several properties that make it invaluable to modern humans, particularly for technological uses:
|Inert||Doesn’t react with other elements, and doesn’t explode like hydrogen|
|Non-toxic||Can be used by humans in a variety of applications|
|Lighter than air||Ability to lift and/or float|
|Melting point -272˚C||Liquid at ultra-cool temps enables superconductivity|
|Small molecular size||Can be used to find the smallest of leaks|
Helium demand has risen consistently since 2009, and the market has been increasing at a CAGR of 10.1% since 2010. With that in mind, here are the specific constituents of helium demand today:
|Helium Use||Global Share||Description|
|Cryogenics||23%||Superconductors use ultracooled helium liquid.|
|Lifting||15%||Used in airships and balloons|
|Electronics||14%||Used to manufacture silicon wafers|
|Optical Fiber||11%||Necessary to make optical fiber cables|
|Welding||9%||Used as a shielding gas for welding|
|Leak Detection||6%||Helium particles are small, and can find the tiniest leaks|
|Analytics||6%||Used in chromatography and other applications|
|Pressure & Purging||5%||Used in rocket systems|
|Diving||3%||Mixed into commercial diving tanks for various reasons|
|Other||8%||Helium's diverse properties give it many other minor uses|
Helium’s melting point, which is the lowest found in nature, allows it to remain as a liquid at the coolest possible temperature. This makes helium ideal for uses in superconductors, including MRI machines – one of the fastest growing components of helium demand.
But where do we obtain this elusive gas?
It turns out that new helium is actually created every day in very tiny amounts within the Earth’s crust as a by-product of radioactive decay. And like other gases below the Earth’s surface (i.e. natural gas), helium gets trapped in geological formations in economical amounts.
Today, much of helium is either produced as a by-product of natural gas deposits, or from helium-primary gas deposits with concentrations up to 7% He.
Here’s helium production by country:
|Country||2016 production (in billion cubic feet)||Share|
|USA (from Cliffside Field)||0.8||14%|
USA (from Cliffside Field)
The USA government has a helium stockpile at the Cliffside Field in Texas, developed as part of a WWI initiative. It is in the process of being phased out, and by as late as 2021 it will no longer contribute to supply.
In December 2013, the Qatar Helium 2 project was opened. This new facility combined with the first helium project makes the country the 2nd largest source of helium globally.
Russia is looking to become a player in helium as well. Gazprom’s Amur LNG project will be one of the biggest gas facilities in the world, and it will include a helium processing plant. This won’t be online until 2024, though.
Though not a helium player yet, scientists have recently uncovered a major helium find in the Rift Valley of Tanzania which contains an estimated 99 billion cubic feet of gas.
The Future of the Helium Market?
Because of inflated demand, especially for cryogenics in MRI machines, helium prices have risen significantly over the years.
And with these market dynamics in mind, it’s clear that the future of helium is not full of hot air.
The Top Downloaded Apps in 2022
Six of the top 10 most downloaded apps in Q1 2022 were social media apps, and four of them are owned by Meta.
The Top Downloaded Apps in 2022
Whether they’re providing a service like ride-sharing or acting as a mere source of entertainment, mobile apps have become an integral part of many peoples’ day-to-day lives.
But which apps are most popular among users?
This graphic uses data from a recent report by Sensor Tower to show the top 10 most downloaded apps around the world in Q1 2022 from the Google Play and Apple App Store.
Social Reigns Supreme
According to the report, total app downloads reached 36.9 billion in Q1 2022, a 1.4% increase compared to Q1 2021.
A majority of the top 10 most downloaded apps were social media platforms, with Meta and ByteDance owning six of the top 10.
|2||Photo and video|
|7||Snapchat||Photo and video|
|9||CapCut||Photo and video|
Meta’s four platforms on the list are Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Messenger, while ByteDance owns TikTok and video-editing platform CapCut.
Just outside the top 10 are Zoom and WhatsApp Business (yet another Meta-owned app).
TikTok’s Winding Road to the Top
In Q1 2021, TikTok exceeded 3.5 billion all-time downloads, becoming the fifth app (and the first non-Meta app) to reach this milestone. This is impressive considering the app has been banned in India as of June 2020. Prior to the ban, India accounted for 30% of TikTok’s downloads.
India’s not the only country that’s banned the use of TikTok. Pakistan has blocked TikTok multiple times because of concerns over “inappropriate” content. However, it’s worth noting that the bans in Pakistan only lasted a few days before being lifted, and currently, Pakistanis are able to access the platform.
Top 10 Highest Grossing Apps
TikTok isn’t just the most downloaded app in the world—it’s also the highest-grossing non-game app, based on Q1 2022 revenue from the App Store and Google Play:
|2||YouTube||Photo and video|
TikTok generated an impressive $821 million in consumer spending in the last quarter. The video-sharing platform was the top-grossing app on the App Store, and the second-highest-grossing on Google Play, coming just after Google One.
While none of Meta’s platforms made it onto the top 10 list for gross revenue, these platforms make a ton of money that doesn’t necessarily flow through app stores. In 2021, Meta generated more than $117.9 billion in revenue, with over 97% of that coming from ads.
Growth’s on the Horizon
The pandemic had a massive impact on the app market.
In 2020, app spending on things like premium access, in-app purchases, and subscriptions surged by 30% year-over-year to reach $111 billion.
And while COVID-19 restrictions are easing in most places around the world, app spending isn’t likely to taper off anytime soon. By 2025, spending is expected to grow to $270 billion.
Synthetic Biology: The $3.6 Trillion Science Changing Life as We Know It
The field of synthetic biology could solve problems in a wide range of industries, from medicine to agriculture—here’s how.
How Synthetic Biology Could Change Life as we Know it
Synthetic biology (synbio) is a field of science that redesigns organisms in an effort to enhance and support human life. According to one projection, this rapidly growing field of science is expected to reach $28.8 billion in global revenue by 2026.
Although it has the potential to transform many aspects of society, things could go horribly wrong if synbio is used for malicious or unethical reasons. This infographic explores the opportunities and potential risks that this budding field of science has to offer.
What is Synthetic Biology?
We’ve covered the basics of synbio in previous work, but as a refresher, here’s a quick explanation of what synbio is and how it works.
Synbio is an area of scientific research that involves editing and redesigning different biological components and systems in various organisms.
It’s like genetic engineering but done at a more granular level—while genetic engineering transfers ready-made genetic material between organisms, synbio can build new genetic material from scratch.
The Opportunities of Synbio
This field of science has a plethora of real-world applications that could transform our everyday lives. A study by McKinsey found over 400 potential uses for synbio, which were broken down into four main categories:
- Human health and performance
- Agriculture and food
- Consumer products and services
- Materials and energy production
If those potential uses become reality in the coming years, they could have a direct economic impact of up to $3.6 trillion per year by 2030-2040.
1. Human Health and Performance
The medical and health sector is predicted to be significantly influenced by synbio, with an economic impact of up to $1.3 trillion each year by 2030-2040.
Synbio has a wide range of medical applications. For instance, it can be used to manipulate biological pathways in yeast to produce an anti-malaria treatment.
It could also enhance gene therapy. Using synbio techniques, the British biotech company Touchlight Genetics is working on a way to build synthetic DNA without the use of bacteria, which would be a game-changer for the field of gene therapy.
2. Agriculture and Food
Synbio has the potential to make a big splash in the agricultural sector as well—up to $1.2 trillion per year by as early as 2030.
One example of this is synbio’s role in cellular agriculture, which is when meat is created from cells directly. The cost of creating lab-grown meat has decreased significantly in recent years, and because of this, various startups around the world are beginning to develop a variety of cell-based meat products.
3. Consumer Products and Services
Using synthetic biology, products could be tailored to suit an individual’s unique needs. This would be useful in fields such as genetic ancestry testing, gene therapy, and age-related skin procedures.
By 2030-2040, synthetic biology could have an economic impact on consumer products and services to the tune of up to $800 billion per year.
4. Materials and Energy Production
Synbio could also be used to boost efficiency in clean energy and biofuel production. For instance, microalgae are currently being “reprogrammed” to produce clean energy in an economically feasible way.
This, along with other material and energy improvements through synbio methods, could have a direct economic impact of up to $300 billion each year.
The Potential Risks of Synbio
While the potential economic and societal benefits of synthetic biology are vast, there are a number of risks to be aware of as well:
- Unintended biological consequences: Making tweaks to any biological system can have ripple effects across entire ecosystems or species. When any sort of lifeform is manipulated, things don’t always go according to plan.
- Moral issues: How far we’re comfortable going with synbio depends on our values. Certain synbio applications, such as embryo editing, are controversial. If these types of applications become mainstream, they could have massive societal implications, with the potential to increase polarization within communities.
- Unequal access: Innovation and progress in synbio is happening faster in wealthier countries than it is in developing ones. If this trend continues, access to these types of technology may not be equal worldwide. We’ve already witnessed this type of access gap during the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, where a majority of vaccines have been administered in rich countries.
- Bioweaponry: Synbio could be used to recreate viruses, or manipulate bacteria to make it more dangerous, if used with ill intent.
According to a group of scientists at the University of Edinburgh, communication between the public, synthetic biologists, and political decision-makers is crucial so that these societal and environmental risks can be mitigated.
Balancing Risk and Reward
Despite the risks involved, innovation in synbio is happening at a rapid pace.
By 2030, most people will have likely eaten, worn, or been treated by a product created by synthetic biology, according to synthetic biologist Christopher A. Voigt.
Our choices today will dictate the future of synbio, and how we navigate through this space will have a massive impact on our future—for better, or for worse.
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