back to article Greedy LOHAN draining away mankind's vital fluid ... allegedly

We at El Reg's Special Projects Bureau have, over the last few months, been challenged by various readers as to why we're using helium to lift our audacious LOHAN spaceplane towards its stratospheric date with destiny. Click here for a bigger version of the LOHAN graphic Why not use hydrogen, they cry. It's easy to …


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  1. TRT Silver badge
  2. Ben 50

    Use of the word "Production"... misleading. It's about as misleading as saying oil is "Produced". The U.S. government is not "producing" Helium. Nobody is, except the stars.

    It is being released and captured. Nothing else. Oil or Helium reserves may be produced, but that's another story.

    1. Francis Vaughan

      Re: Use of the word "Production"...

      Curiously the Helium we get from the wells is has not been produced by stellar processes. It is the result of radioactive decay in the rocks. In most places this will slowly make it way to the surface and eventually vanish into space. But where you have a natural impervious barrier that traps any gas, you the Helium is retained. These natural barriers are the same barriers that trap natural gas (aka Methane) and is why all natural gas wells produce Helium along with the methane. Some wells have a higher proportion of Helium than others, and those wells near the US Helium store were quite high. Any natural gas facility that creates liquefied natural gas can also produce Helium with only small additional effort. Qatar and Australian LNG plants will. But if you don't extract the Helium, it simply goes up the flue when the natural gas is burnt. Whenever you put the kettle on you probably waste as much if not more Helium as a child's balloon holds. The vast majority of Helium is lost this way. Simply because it was never recovered in the first place. The limits to the accessible Helium are simple. When we run out of natural gas, we run out of cheap Helium. Forever.

      1. Anomynous Coward


        Interesting; thanks.

    2. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: Use of the word "Production"...

      So if the police would ask you to produce your identification that means they want you to make one out of available materials on the spot, right?

    3. Crazy Operations Guy

      Re: Use of the word "Production"...

      If you are going to be pedantic, I shall add my pedantry:

      While we are not producing helium and oil in any significant, we are producing some helium and oil none-the-less. Helium is produced as a bi-product of many nuclear fission and fusion processes; and oil is being produced in very small quantities by experimental bio-fuel systems (oil as in a synthetic that is about 99% similar to naturally-produced petroleum, close enough to be called oil)

  3. G R Goslin


    I'd tend to agree with you, if one of you was going to go up with the balloon, but once it's released it ceases to be 'in the public domain', so to speak. After all, the gov'mint are trying their best to encourage you to put the stuff in your cars. Which to me, seeing as how some people drive, never seemed to be a good idea. Historically speaking, town gas used to have a high proportion of hydrogen, which made it lighter than air. And while a few houses spontaneously disassembled themselves, an awful lot didn't. Much as they do now, with the heavier than air 'Natural' gas. All it takes is a bit more care on the launch pad, and you can use a much smaller balloon, or carry a much bigger payload

    1. Hugh Pumphrey

      Re: But....

      Natural gas is mostly methane. Methane (molecular mass 16 units) is considerably lighter than air (about 29 units).

    2. Mike Manes

      Re: But....

      Natural gas, or "street gas" is 99% pure Methane, CH4, which has a molecular weight of 16, compared to that of air, which is about 28, so it's also a "lifting gas" and has been used as such in a pinch. But it's still a lot heavier than H2 (MW=2) and He (MW=4). The "lifting power" of a balloon gas is determined by the >difference< in MW's of the gas and air. So even though

      H2 has half the MW of He, in air, it's only got about 8% more lift for a given volume.

      It's also worthy to note that a H2-air flame is nearly invisible - a very pale blue which, unlike carbon based flames, emits negligible infrared radiation. The flames seen in the HIndenburg newsreel were thus obviously not H2 flames. It turns out that the fabric that formed the skin of the airship contained highly flammable additives,

      which burned with bright yellow flames. Of course, once the airship's structure failed, the H2 in the cells was released, mixed with O2 in the air and added more fuel to the fire.

      In the US, the National Weather Service launched some 120 weather balloons daily from sites across the continent, and for several years now, all of them use H2 vice He due to the latter's

      soaring cost. The primary added precautions are avoidance of H2 leaks and accumulation in buildings and avoidance of ignition sources such as static discharges and other electrical arcs, and the like. H2-air mixtures less than 4% and over 75% H2 concentration, as would be

      the case in a balloon, are not flammable.

      Nonetheless, it's easy to gripped by "Hindenburg Paranoia", as apparently have the LOHAN guys.

      Mike Manes W5VSI, CTO EOSS

  4. JetSetJim Silver badge

    How much is 3m^3?

    Under what pressure? How many mol/moles?

    What is the equivalent Reg unit to a mol, too?

    1. Ministry of Truth

      Re: How much is 3m^3?

      It's been a while since I did chemistry, but I think that a mol of most gases takes up ~24dm^3 at RTP.

      That is about the same size as a biscuit tin. So can we use the biscuit tin unit for the reg value for Mols for gases?

  5. Evil Auditor

    I don't get it, Lester

    I've watched the video. But my conclusion would be quite the contrary ;-)

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: I don't get it, Lester

      I hear what you're saying...

  6. mark 63 Silver badge

    the real reason

    Is it just me or did that article end just before "the reason" ?

    Also you never mentioned its used in commercial diving. That must account for more than the odd MRI scanner or space rocket.

    Didnt know about the welding, what kind of welding is it?

    thought they used co2 or argon

    1. Zombie Womble

      Re: the real reason

      "Is it just me or did that article end just before "the reason" ?"

      I think you must have something blocking YouTube videos, AdBlock Plus maybe?

  7. Poor Coco

    If you don’t want it to burn like the Hindenburg, just don’t make the balloon out of thermite. The flames in the footage are brilliantly bright. Hydrogen burns with a dull red flame that does not appear on black-and-white film.

    I also question the use of helium in welding, it would be useless for creating an inert atmosphere without complete enclosure because it’s less dense than air. Since argon isn’t, that’s presumably the 'IG' in MIG welding. Nor is argon in any way threatening to disappear as it’s a major component of the atmosphere.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Welding of some types of metals (Notably TIG welding aluminium) require Helium as Argon has some drawbacks in those situations. IIRC argon severly degrades when TIG welding with AC as with aluminium, causing slag and oxide encapsulation, as well as more spatter.

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  9. sebacoustic


    Hydrogen is not explosive. It's flammable, as the newsreader on the Pathe newsreel rightly states.

    See how the airship fails to explode? That should be another hint.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: explosive?

      Yup Science states the following:

      Hydrogen-air mixtures will explode if they contain between 4 to 75% hydrogen.

      So the key, Keep it above 75% H2, Preferably more like 99.9%!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: explosive?

      The newsreader actually said it was inflammable.

      But due to a linguistic oddity (that I'd like to see stamped out) it doesn't affect the meaning.

      1. The Indomitable Gall

        @AC re:inflammable

        Well, do you object to the "in" in "inform"? Is "intubating" someone something to do with "no tubes"? And what about a sharp "in"take of breath? Is "in"vestment about not wearing underwear on the upper body? Is "in"fluence a bad thing?

        I hope you find this comment "in"sightful.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Seems chemistry teachers have less qualms than journos...

    Balloons filled with Hydrogen: No Problem.

    Oh and feel free to prepare them in advance, just not too many hours...

    So who knows best?

    - Hindenburg had Landing problems (static discharge) I don't recall that being the plan for LOHAN (But what do I know..)

    1. Evil Auditor

      Re: Seems chemistry teachers have less qualms than journos...

      And Hindenburg had a pressurised smoking room. Neither do I recall that being the plan for the LOHAN ground personnel.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Seems chemistry teachers have less qualms than journos...

        Ciggy + Helium Balloon = expensive fail.

        I don't really think they will want to ave one on the go, whilst handling the thing anyway.

        So if your not there's no problem.

        Go for the Red Cylinder.

  11. sebacoustic

    @JetSetJim; @Ministry Of Truth

    The volume of a mol of gas at "normal conditions" (btw what sort of bisquit tin hold 22.4 litres?) is not at stake here: what's the reg unit for the count of particles in a mol, also known as Avogadro's number. And it's a large number: 6.023*10^23 if I remember correctly.

    So in reg units, that's roughly covering the area of wales densely with herpes viruses, and then counting them.

    Or, take apples market cap, in dollar coins, and lie them flat in a row (that takes you over 9 times to the sun by the way)

    Then lay out another row just the same, but perpendicular to that, and then fill in the square with many more dollars. And they you've got nearly half as many as Avogadro's number.

    1. Ministry of Truth

      Re: @JetSetJim; @Ministry Of Truth

      MY biscuit tin does. It's got many cookies in.


      Glad to know of your wonderful knowledge of the herpes virus though... I'd shake your hand, but...

      1. Ministry of Truth

        Re: @JetSetJim; @Ministry Of Truth

        PS: Crush some dry ice by wrapping a piece in a towel and pounding it with a hammer. Weigh out one mole of the crushed dry ice (44 g) on the balance and carefully pour the coarse powder into the latex glove. Explain that the glove now contains one mole of carbon dioxide. Seal the open end of the glove by tying it in a knot or by twisting and tying with a wire. Set the glove containing the dry ice aside and allow the frozen gas to sublime while you discuss other topics. It will take 20-30 minutes before all the solid sublimes.

        When all the solid has turned to gas, the glove should have inflated to roughly the size of a basketball. At this point you might calculate the expected volume of the gas by using the ideal gas law. Here is an excellent opportunity to ask the rhetorical question, "To what level of accuracy to we know the volume of the inflated glove?" The answer, of course, is to five digits.

        OOOO the pun

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Why does El Reg hate freedom?

    I watched the video. I saw a NAZI airship destroyed by God's Own Hand in the Land of the Free. I think we should be told just what the LOHAN team thinks is the problem here - are they perhaps BLASPHEMERS who crookedly insinuate that the Lord will smite them by mistake? Or do they in fact rightly fear the firey doom that awaits all SECRET NAZI CONSPIRATORS?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why does El Reg hate freedom?

      El Reg is a Secret Nazi conspiracy run by Blasphemers? Who woulda thunk it?

      Heil Vulture!

      In other news, I could sure as hell use some of whatever you're on (that or you need to take what you're supposed to be on), cuz its gotta be pretty good, eg you make less sense than reading amanfrommars' posts while smoking PCP.

      1. TeeCee Gold badge

        Re: Why does El Reg hate freedom?

        OI! There's no "Blasphemers" card in my Illuminati deck!

        You're cheating.

  13. Anonymous Dutch Coward

    Have a +1 from me for BRIGHTENING up my day BY judicious use OF capitals and conspiracy theories.... Also kudos for involving your imaginary friend. Going to LIGHT the barbecue now...

    1. The Indomitable Gall

      You know, when someone's satirically taking the p!ss out of the fundies, you look a bit silly when you jump in to slag him off for being one.

  14. Yet Another Commentard

    Why not have as the next Special Project ("JORDAN"?) a shed-based fusion reactor. Replace all that wasted helium.

    That'll show 'em.

  15. Richard Neill

    Hydrogen has better lift and leakage

    H2 being diatomic is a much larger molecule than He, therefore diffuses through the latex more slowly. You may notice that party balloons lose buoyancy within about 8 hours; this is why.

    Also, there is about 8% more lift available from H2 than He.

  16. Anonymous Coward


    Look Out, Helium Atrophying Now!!

    Lets Overlook Hindenburg As Namesake!!

  17. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Won't somebody think of the children?

    I mean, surely, all this irresponsible and possibly dangerous use of a GAS is likely to set a precedent for young and impressionable minds!

  18. Hanfellll

    Use hydrogen, you don't have any humans on board!

    Your balloon is not carrying humans and static electricity will be much more manageable (use wrist straps during launch and filling).

    Also, your balloon is not metallic and you won't be tethering the balloon via such a metallic balloon (a la Hindenburg) so there is pretty much no risk. You're more likely to accidentally ignite the rocket on launch.

    I think it would be worth you using hydrogen because the balloon will go much higher and as I say, there is no risk to human life.

    1. MacroRodent Silver badge

      Some actual hydrogen ballooning experience...

      Agreed! As long as you fill your balloon outdoors (and don't smoke while doing it), using hydrogen is quite safe. It is harder to make a hydrogen balloon explode than people think. During my compulsory military service in Finland I was a "weatherman", which sometimes involved sending hydrogen-filled pilot balloons (about one meter in diameter when filled at ground level), and following them with a theodolite to determine winds at various heights. The balloon rises at a known constant rate, so measuring the direction to it periodically allows computing the wind speed and direction (done with a kind of nomogram, instead of a computer - this was 30 years ago, and even today the nomogram might be more reliable under field conditions). The relevant bit here is that in some exercises this was done at night, and to make the balloon visible, we attached a paper bag with a lit candle in it (yes, really!). The balloon never exploded because of this. During one exercise, being a bit bored, we went further and hung a large firecracker (of the type used to simulate enemy fire in exercises) under one balloon, expecting a very spectacular bang. No such luck, it just popped rather mildly. I'm not sure if the hydrogen actually even ignited.

      (Ob. disclaimer for kids: Don't try this at home. Maybe we were just lucky...)

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I thought the USA stockpiled it in anticipation of Disney wanting to make many more cartoons, and needing the voices...

  20. TeeCee Gold badge

    Another problem with Hydrogen.

    No opportunity to play silly buggers in squeaky voices to relieve the tedium while it ascends to altitude.

  21. MrZoolook

    So am I the only one...

    ... who wishes Lindsay Lohan WAS taking his vital fluid?

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