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Helium 3 as a Potential Energy Source, Part One Updated 18 June 2016

Updated on December 19, 2017
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Science, nature and the environment, with regard to human impact, are subjects to which Chris applies his passions for research and writing.

Helium-3, You'll Find It on the Moon


Author's Note to this Article 18 June 2016

In a 5 June 2016 article, The Wall Street Journal reported that MoonEx, or Moon Express, will launch its first experimental rocket to the moon in late 2017. "The government’s endorsement would eliminate the largest regulatory hurdle to plans by Moon Express, a relatively obscure space startup, to land a roughly 20-pound package of scientific hardware on the Moon sometime next year." WSJ 5 June 2016 (subscription required).

The purpose of the lunar mission planned by Moon Express is stated in a CNBC report on 1 October 2015. "Among the moon's mineral riches: gold, cobalt, iron, palladium, platinum, tungsten and Helium-3, a gas that can be used in future fusion reactors to provide nuclear power without radioactive waste."

The plan to mine the moon for Helium3 is still in place and is still moving forward.

The Importance of Helium 3

The earth is at a point of needing either more oil to fuel its endeavors or a new energy source altogether. Most people on our planet would like to continue to advance technologically and economically, but we are at a breaking point. Continuing to use oil, along with coal and natural gas as our primary energy sources has become unacceptable for many people worldwide. A new primary source of energy is being demanded. Could helium3 be the next major breakthrough in energy resources?

Helium 3 isotope has one neutron and two protons in its nucleus. The outer ring, or valence,  contains two electrons
Helium 3 isotope has one neutron and two protons in its nucleus. The outer ring, or valence, contains two electrons
Helium 4 isotope has two neutrons and two protons in its nucleus.   The outer ring, or valence, contains two electrons.
Helium 4 isotope has two neutrons and two protons in its nucleus. The outer ring, or valence, contains two electrons.

Helium is an Important Element: Helium3 and Helium4

Here is a helpful link describing helium-3 and helium-4. It is a short description.

The kind of helium that is found on earth and which I wrote about in my previous article, The Helium Shortage, is helium4. Helium3 is a different helium isotope and is rare on planet earth. This gas is continuously being produced by hydrogen fusion in the core of the sun. helium3 is then emitted from the sun into space. Eventually some of that gas arrives at earth and is blocked by our atmosphere. The moon, absent an atmosphere, has been absorbing helium3 for billions of years. At this point, no one knows for sure how much helium is on the moon. Before discussing the possibilities of mining the moon for helium3, Lets look at the benefits of having an abundant supply of helium3 for energy production on earth.

Do we really need a new source of energy on earth?

Currently the world uses more than 3,654,000,000 gallons of oil per day (2010). Quite often there is pollution involved obtaining oil, and it always pollutes as we use it.

According to The Society of Petroleum Engineers, based on current knowledge of oil reserves and usage, the world has enough oil to last for 41.6 years. This figure would be adjusted if usage changed or new reserves were discovered.

Today, nuclear energy is produced by fission, or splitting a uranium atom. Whenever this is done, there is a by-product of radioactive waste that must be stored indefinitely. The danger of a nuclear leak or explosion is always present.

Another kind of nuclear reaction is fusion which is the forcing together of the nuclei of two atoms. This can be done with the elements tritium and deuterium. The byproducts of this fusion are energy, helium and a fast neutron which is a containment risk.

Fusion of two helium3 atoms yields one helium4 atom, two protons and energy
Fusion of two helium3 atoms yields one helium4 atom, two protons and energy | Source

Could Helium3 Be the Solution?

Another element that can be used in producing energy by nuclear fusion is helium 3. The byproducts of helium3 fusion are helium, a proton and energy. "In contrast, helium-3 is a completely clean source of energy. Two helium-3 atoms are fused in a thermonuclear reactor to produce normal helium and energy. The fuel is non-radioactive, the process produces no radioactivity, and the residue produces no radioactivity. It is the perfect energy source." By Wilson Greatbatch, FAAAS, PE in A presentation given to Congressman Bill Paxon. (Do read the article by Dr. Greatbatch).

The following excerpt is from the i09 Blog (wiki about i09)-"The Helium-3 fusion process is not simply theoretical — the University of Wisconsin-Madison Fusion Technology Institute successfully performed fusion experiments combining two molecules of Helium-3. Estimates place the efficiency of Helium-3 fusion reactions at seventy percent, out-pacing coal and natural gas electricity generation by twenty percent." For the complete article go to i09

Artists rendition
Artists rendition | Source

When and Where Do We Start Digging?

So, lets start mining helium3, right? Helium3 is needed for nuclear fusion and it is rare on earth. There is lot of helium in space, though. The general consensus is that there is a great deal of helium3 on the moon’s surface. If that is true, then it naturally raises the question, should we mine the moon for helium3?

Actually, plans have already been made by a few nations. Russia, the United States and China have made clear their plans to go to the moon with the intention of mining helium3.

Christopher Barnatt-Mining the Moon

Target year
Helium production by 2020
Permanent Base/Helium Production
Man on Moon to assess amount of helium present
Moon Express
Late 2014
Exploration/Data Collection (Private US company)

Seriously?.......Yes, Seriously!

"By the end of my second term we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American"  Newt Gingrich, summer 2012 Photograph: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
"By the end of my second term we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American" Newt Gingrich, summer 2012 Photograph: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images | Source

Are They Serious?

“The Moon has never been explored before from an entrepreneurial perspective. I believe the Moon may be the greatest wealth creation opportunity in history. It’s not a question of if; just of who and when.” Dr. Barney Pell, Co-Founder, CTO and Vice Chairman of Moon Express

Newt Gingrich told Floridians in January, 2012 that that under his administration the US would have the first permanent base on the moon. An American moon base could provide America with enough Helium3 to provide for all of our country’s energy needs. I do believe that was one of the things that ended his campaign. No one took him seriously. But this is serious. Someone is going to the moon to mine Helium3.

Author's Note Added 2/1/14

As of late 2013, China has landed on the moon. One of their objectives is to collect data and do research regarding the mining of Helium 3. The race has begun, and China is out with an early lead. See my article on Mining Helium 3 on the Moon: China's Chang'e 3 Moon Mission.


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