why do we use helium in balloons instead of hydrogen

In order to get a floating balloon you want a gas which is as light as possible. Helium is quite a lot lighter than air weight. Its about and eighth of the density of air. Hydrogen is about a sixteenth the density of air. So itll float in air and will even float upwards. Youd have thought that hydrogen would be a better gas as it would give slightly more lift than helium because its lighter. This is true. The problem is hydrogen is explosive and if you have children running around with balloons that could catch fire and blow up in their faces, it may have some health and safety implications. The other thing is that although hydrogen is half as heavy as helium it doesnt give you twice as much lift because the amount of lift you get is in its difference in density with [respect to] air. Its actually only another sixteenth of the density of air. Its a little bit better but not very much, so its not worth the danger. Helium is quite expensive, though, because its a limited resource here on the planet. It's only created by radioactive decay on Earth. Atomic nucleuses emitting alpha particles that are actually helium nucleuses. They slow down and gain some electrons and turn into a helium atom. It tends to be found in oil wells where you get a gas-proof layer of rock above a load of rocks containing radioactive elements. They break down to helium. It floats up and gets trapped, often at the top of an oil well. The amount of helium that we can access cheaply is very limited because not all our oil wells have it.
As other answers have noted, the only gas lighter than helium is hydrogen, which has some that make it more difficult to handle safely than helium. Also, in practice, hydrogen is not significantly "lighter" than helium. While the molecular mass (and thus, per the, the density) of hydrogen gas is about half that of helium, what determines the buoyancy of a balloon is the difference between the density of the gas inside the balloon and the air outside. The at is about = 1. 2754 kg/m, while the densities of and gas are = 0. 08988 kg/m and = 0. 1786 kg/m respectively. The buoyant forces of a hydrogen balloon and a helium balloon in air (neglecting the weight of the skin and the pressure difference between the inside and the outside, which both decrease the buoyancy somewhat) are proportional to the density differences = 1. 1855 kg/m and = 1. 0968 kg/m.


Thus, helium is only about 7. 5% less buoyant in air than hydrogen. Of course, if the surrounding air were replaced with a lighter gas, the density difference between hydrogen and helium would become more significant. For example, if you wished to go ballooning on, which has an atmosphere consisting mostly of hydrogen and some helium, a helium balloon would simply sink, and even a pure hydrogen balloon (at ambient temperature) would not lift much weight. Of course, you could always just fill the balloon with ambient Jovian air and to produce a (not to be confused with a, which are used on Earth and have separate chambers for hot air and hydrogen / helium). Ps. A quick way to approximately obtain this result is to note that an hydrogen molecule consists two protons (and some electrons, which have negligible mass), and thus has a molecular mass of about 2 AMU, while a helium atom has two protons and two neutron, for a total mass of about 4 AMU. Air, meanwhile, is mostly oxygen and nitrogen: oxygen has a molecular mass of about 32 AMU (8 protons + 8 neutrons per atom, two atoms per molecule), while nitrogen is close to 28 AMU (one proton and one neutron per atom less than oxygen). Thus, the average molecular mass of air should be between 28 and 32 AMU; in fact, since air is about three quarters nitrogen, it's about 29 AMU, and so the buoyancies of hydrogen and helium in air are proportional to 29 2 = 27 and 29 4 = 25 respectively. Thus, hydrogen should be about (27 25) / 25 = 2 / 25 = 8 / 100 = 8% more buoyant than helium, or, in other words, helium should be about 2 / 27 7. 5% less buoyant than hydrogen. Pps. To summarize some of the comments below, there are other possible as well, but none of them appear to be particularly viable competitors for helium, at least not at today's helium prices. For example, (molecular mass ~ 16 AMU) has about half the buoyancy of hydrogen or helium in the Earth's atmosphere, and is cheap and easily available from natural gas. However, like hydrogen, it's also flammable, and while it's somewhat less dangerous by some measures (burn speed and flammability range), it's more dangerous by others (total energy content per volume). In any case, the reduced buoyancy, together with the flammability, is probably enough to sink (pun not intended) methane as a viable alternative to helium.


A much less flammable choice would be vapor which, with a molecular mass of ~ 18 AMU, is only slightly less buoyant than methane at the same temperature and pressure. The obvious problem with water is that it's a liquid at ambient temperatures, which means it has to be heated to make it lift anything at all. This wouldn't be so bad (after all, you get extra lift from the expansion due to heat), except for the fact that it makes any failure in the heating system a potential disaster whereas a hot air balloon will just gently drift down if the burner fails, a hot steam balloon can experience catastrophic buoyancy loss if the vapor condenses. Despite these drawbacks, have been, and in the past alas, (although, apparently, there have been as well). There are various ways in which the condensation issue could potentially be reduced, such as adding extra insulation layers to the balloon envelope, or even surrounding the steam balloon with a more conventional hot air envelope. So far, however, it seems that steam balloons remain firmly in the realm of nifty but impractical ideas. Other potential lifting gases, with molecular mass similar to methane and water, include and. Neon, being a noble gas like helium, would certainly work and be safe, but alas, it's both less buoyant and more expensive than helium. Ammonia, on the other hand, while than methane, is rather toxic and corrosive (not to mention really stinky, which, given its other properties, is probably a good thing). I don't think I'd like to, but, It seems that its main advantage (besides being much cheaper than helium) is its relatively low vapor pressure, which makes it easier to store and handle in compressed form. Thus, at least for some niche applications (mainly hobbyists and some weather balloons, AFAICT), ammonia might actually be the most viable alternative to helium (and hot air) today, with methane / natural gas perhaps coming second. If helium were to become more scarce and expensive, these low-cost lifting gases (and possibly other alternatives, like helium recovery or even steam balloons) might become more practical. Then again, so would hydrogen its safety issues, though well known, are not insurmountable, especially not for things like unmanned weather balloons where the risks are much less.

  • Autor: Roto2
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