Is Helium Flammable? (Answered)

is-helium-flammable

You have already bought some balloons for a party you are planning for your children. A friend advises filling the balloons with helium. But you’re hesitant because you believe the gas will cause the balloons to explode. Is helium flammable, you wonder? 

Do not worry! We answer that question in this article. You’ll also learn if helium is flammable, explosive, or toxic and whether helium balloons catch fire. Finally, we discuss in great detail the properties and uses of helium. 

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Is Helium Flammable or Non-flammable?

Helium doesn’t catch fire. It is an inert gas used in liquid form as a coolant in some industries. Helium is highly stable and non-reactive in both gaseous and liquid forms. It has the lowest melting and boiling points and does not burn. Noble gases, like helium, don’t burn in oxygen or react with other elements. Helium occurs as a gas unless under extreme temperatures. 

While most materials become solid at temperatures below 0°C (32°F), helium becomes liquid. Helium does not ignite at higher temperatures. After hydrogen, helium is the most abundant element and has the symbol (He). The gas belongs to group O in the periodic table.

Is Helium Explosive?

Helium is not explosive. Most explosive substances are also flammable. An explosive substance must react swiftly and expand suddenly while releasing heat and light. For this to happen, the substance must still have a lot of energy to release. Helium does not have a lot of stored-up energy. Helium is safe to handle because of its inert nature.   

However, there have been instances that helium balloons have “exploded” when released high up in the air. The pressure on the balloon, rather than any explosive element, causes a light explosive sound. High altitudes see a decrease in air pressure, which raises the pressure inside the balloon. The balloon bursts due to the excessive helium pressure and weakening balloon skin strength.  

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While helium is not explosive, there have been incidences where helium has been said to explode, like the Hindenburg tragedy. But it’s important to note that leaking hydrogen, not helium was the cause of the tragedy. After the incident, hydrogen was no longer used to fill blimps and airships

But what happened here?  Three injured as helium balloons explode at fair in Mysuru.

Although it was claimed that the balloons contained helium, additional research revealed that hydrogen or acetylene was used. The explosion was brought on by the balloons rubbing up against a lightbulb.  

Where Does Helium Come From?

Natural gas resources contain the non-renewable compound helium, derived from “helios,” the Greek word for sun. Helium is produced by naturally occurring radioactive materials beneath the earth’s surface. Uranium and thorium are two examples of radioactive elements. Helium rises into the air or becomes trapped in natural gas deposits once freed from these radioactive elements, which can take decades. 

The only element on the periodic table that can travel into space is helium. Helium can escape Earth’s gravitational pull since it is light in weight and does not combine with other elements. Only specialized machinery can be used to extract the helium that has been trapped in natural gas pockets. 

Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas are some of the states that have the largest helium deposits. The supply of helium is, regrettably, running out. Additional suppliers include Algeria, Canada, China, Poland, Russia, and Qatar. These sources are regarded as non-renewable since it is challenging to recycle helium. 

Only in areas where helium concentration is more than 0.03% is commercial helium mined. The extracting companies follow the following procedure. 

  • The drill rig must break through a crust layer to reach the natural gas reserves. 
  • Using industrial processes to filter contaminants such as carbon dioxide, water, and hydrogen sulfide. 
  • The gas is cooled, and the methane is removed using cryogenic processing, leaving behind 50–70% pure helium. 
  • After additional cooling and filtration, the impure helium is transformed into 99% pure helium. 
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Is Helium Gas Toxic?

Helium gas is non-toxic. Helium, however, behaves as an asphyxiant when breathed in instead of ordinary air. An asphyxiant is a gas that lowers your body’s average oxygen level. Your body will experience hypoxia if it is not given enough oxygen. Hypoxia will result in irregular heartbeat, unconsciousness, lightheadedness, and death. 

Even more risky is inhaling helium straight from the gas cylinder. Strokes, seizures, or even death can ensue from a risky embolism (blockage of a blood vessel) caused by a gas bubble. Air sacs rupture as a result of lung damage, which results in instant death.  

Don’t leave the kids unattended if you have helium balloons at a kids’ party. While a child inhaling helium from the balloons might make amusing and exciting sounds, it can be dangerous. The other children may inhale the remaining helium balloons to produce the same sounds.

Can Helium Balloons Catch Fire?

No, helium balloons don’t catch fire when exposed to heat. The rubber material of helium balloons melts when they come into contact with a heat source or flame. The balloon will also blow out as it melts. As a result, the helium balloon won’t catch fire if it comes into contact with a heat source; instead, it will just pop. 

Note: Please handle helium with caution. Contact with helium in its gas/liquid state might cause skin irritation. Additionally, prolonged exposure can cause frostbite. Helium inhalation might result in blood clots, dizziness, and breathing issues.

Properties and Uses of Helium

Helium has several properties that make it ideal for applications that require very low temperatures. 

Properties of Helium

Here are a few properties of helium.

Physical properties

  • Helium has a low boiling point of -452.2°F (269°C), so it mainly exists in a gaseous state. 
  • It’s the only known gas with a lower density than hydrogen of 0.000164  g cm−3 (At the atmospheric pressure of 1 atm and 0°C).
  • Helium is monoatomic(single atom) in nature, which means that the number of its electrons matches the number of protons. 
  • Regardless of the temperature around it, helium does not solidify at standard pressure. 

Chemical properties

  • In its natural state, helium is inert and doesn’t participate in chemical reactions. 
  • Helium is not soluble in water. 
  • It is classified as an inert gas because the outermost electron orbital contains two electrons that don’t get close to other elements to form chemical bonds. 
  • It has a higher thermal conductivity than other gases apart from hydrogen.  
  • Helium’s diffusion through solids is around 65% of hydrogen and three times that of air. 
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Uses of Helium

There are several uses for helium, particularly in industries such as manufacturing, national defense, medical technology, scientific research, and space exploration. 

IndustriesUses
Aerospace-Cooling agent around rocket engines.-Large hadron collider machine used to investigate the structure of space and time. 
-Clean out rocket fuel tanks.
Automotive-Airbags.-Detect leaks in air conditioning systems.
Medicine-Used in diagnostic equipment such as MRIs. 
-Microscopes. -Heliox(mixture of helium and oxygen).
-NMR spectrometers. 
-Treat respiratory conditions like asthma and emphysema.
-Neon lasers used in eye surgery.
Electronics-Fabrication of conventional computers.-Superconducting quantum bits for computers. -Fiber optics.- Barcode scanners.-Computer microchips.
Manufacturing-Shielding gas in welding.
-Between telescope lenses.-Protective gas in titanium and zirconium
-Filling decorative and weather balloons.
-Production of germanium and silicon crystals.
-Supersonic wind tunnel testing.
– Gas chromatography as a carrier gas.
National defense-Surveillance craft. -Scientific balloons. 
-Air-to-air missile guidance systems.
-Rocket engine testing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can the helium tank explode? 

Helium tanks can’t explode. Helium is unlikely to catch fire because it is not a reactive element. So if helium cannot support fire, a helium tank will unlikely explode. Since helium is so stable, it can put out fires. A burst disc seals the helium tank. If the helium tank is placed in a fire, the burst disc allows the release of helium into the environment preventing the spread of fire. 

Why use helium in balloons instead of hydrogen?

Since helium is lighter than air and inflammable, it is perfect for balloons. While hydrogen is flammable, it is also lightweight. The likelihood of an explosion and fire increases when airborne hydrogen and oxygen combine. 

Is there an alternative for helium in balloons? 

There are other alternatives if you are still hesitant about using helium for the balloons. You can use air or a mixture of baking soda and vinegar. Unfortunately, the balloons will only float independently if they have helium. If using the alternative, you might have to use balloon arches to support the non-helium balloons allowing them to float. Another alternative to making your non-helium balloons float is having a centerpiece and tying several balloons together. 

How long can you leave helium balloons?

The lifespan of a 9 to 12-inch helium balloon is 8 to 12 hours, while a larger balloon is 2-3 days. But only if you keep the balloons at room temperature is this practical. Helium does not perform well in freezing conditions, so if you keep the balloons there, they won’t last very long. 

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