Well, no. It would be much simpler if it worked that way but unfortunately helium is awkward.
It has one of the lowest boiling points among all known elements so you cannot easily turn it into liquid and drain it down. It is also only the second lightest element (behind hydrogen) so you can’t just turn your funnel upside-down and catch it going up. Besides, where do they harvest it from anyway?
Helium, being the second lightest element, is to be found in our atmosphere. Up there, it’s mixed in with the hydrogen and oxygen that help make up the rest of our air. But there is one time when these can be found separated and it is possible to divide and conquer. Clouds.
What happens in clouds is that the hydrogen and oxygen combine to make H2O. That leaves a bubble of helium to keep the cloud afloat. When too much water is accumulated and it is too heavy for the helium to support, that’s when you get rain, and the helium dissipates to begin the cycle again. In order to harvest helium, small unmanned drones are sent up dragging large fishing-net style hoppers to collect the clouds. They must be collected at optimum time to ensure all hydrogen and oxygen gas has turned into cloud, without waiting too long and letting the cloud rain. The hopper is then sealed and brought down, shaken a bit so the cloud no longer floats, and a small valve underneath releases the cloud water leaving pure helium ready for use.
October 16, 2012 at 2:39 pm
Helium is actually accumlated by fishing poles, not fishing nets. What they do is cast the hook in to the helium unmanned drones. Then they catch the drone, and gut out the helium. This is a more simple step and process of collecting helium than fishing nets.