Feeds

CSIRO, Macquarie University, on helium-saving crusade

Voice-altering fun soon to be available with recycled gas

High performance access to file storage

Rather than sending out dire warnings about the dangers of party balloons wasting helium, it's probably better to stem the losses from the world's largest users. That's the approach being taken by the CSIRO and Sydney's Macquarie University.

Cryogenics, as The Register noted here, is a big consumer of helium. In 2005, the US government estimated that application to represent more than 3,800 metric tonnes annually, worldwide.

That kind of consumption, combined with a similar amount getting run through rocket motors (to purge the super-cold systems), puts the demonised party balloon quite in the shade, so it makes sense for helium to be recovered from systems wherever possible.

In a pilot project for helium recovery, CSIRO and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders – CCD for short – are going to work together to develop an onsite helium recovery and reliquefication system.

CSIRO Chief of Materials Science and Engineering Dr Cathy Foley told The Register America's sell-off of its helium reserve, under a plan designed to eliminate the reserve's operating deficit, has kept helium prices artificially low in recent years.

While that's been good for medical and other research, it's also encouraged bad practice of letting the helium used (for example) in an MRI machine to “boil off into space” (literally, since as a lighter-than-air gas, it escapes the atmosphere with ease). Those bad practises, she said, will run into a crunch as prices normalise.

Dr Foley said it's feasible that prices could rise tenfold – putting a premium on recovery and re-use of the gas.

While capture of helium at the source (that is, where it's being used) isn't too difficult, she said, the process of reliquefication has until recently demanded large and very expensive refrigeration facilities, with highly specialised operators, making release cheaper than recycling.

The more recent development of electric coolers suitable for onsite recovery marks an important development in the recycling of medical helium. At Macquarie, the “boiloff” from magnetoencephalography (MEG) is captured in pipes and taken to the onsite recycling facility. There, it's compressed, purified, and reliquefied for storage – and since it's designed to be a leak-proof system, the MEG's 200 litre weekly consumption of the $30/litre liquid could be cut to near zero.

The facility will also serve as something of a pilot for other high-consumption activities. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Fancy joining Reg hack on quid-a-day challenge?
Recruiting now for charity starvation diet
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.