Floating party balloons could soon be a thing of the past, with a world helium shortage sending prices soaring.

The shortage of the invisible, lighter-than-air and odourless substance has become serious enough for the US Senate to get involved - voting overnight to pump up production of the versatile product.

From the production of electronics that go into computers and smart phones to MRI scanners in hospitals, many things would be impossible without helium.

With a freezing point lower than any other element, Mic Moylan from Melbourne University says the substance is also used to supercool a huge range of things we take for granted.

"Helium comes in liquid form and that's used to cool down the wires that are used in strong magnets," he said.

"And when I'm talking about cool air, liquid helium is at -269 degrees. So those incredibly low temperatures allow the wires in the magnets to superconduct."

But its usefulness has come at a price, with demand for helium growing with our appetite for technology has increased.

It is the second most abundant element but it is very hard to collect.

Found in some natural gas, 70 per cent of world supplies comes from the United States and with an aging government-owned plant due to close next month prices have quadrupled.

In a rare show of bipartisan cooperation the US Senate voted overnight to keep the plant open for a while longer.

But it is not simple matter finding longer term sources.

"It's formed as a by-product of radioactive decay," he said.

"So if you have uranium underground, helium is formed as the product of that uranium breaking down. By far the biggest deposits of helium are in the south of the United States."

The party balloon industry is already starting to feel the squeeze.

"Around the world a lot of balloon businesses can't get their hands on helium so business couldn't survive and we're still lucky in Australia that it only recently hit us," Wendy Hu from Mad Balloons in Sydney said.

"We can't get our hand on helium, the price is going up and that's a 30 per cent increase."

It has even got to the point where one big party can affect supplies to the rest of the country.

"Google had a massive promotional launch and that was in New Zealand so they sent all their helium supplies, all the helium for that month for the east coast of Australia down to New Zealand," Ms Hu said.

"That's why we were short. We didn't have any helium."

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