Feeds

CSIRO, Macquarie University, on helium-saving crusade

Voice-altering fun soon to be available with recycled gas

Intelligent flash storage arrays

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. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.