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Monday, 29 January 2018

The ICN2 and the ALBA synchrotron open a liquid helium recovery plant

This plant, fitted with equipment owned by the ICN2, is unique in Catalonia and allows recycling of up to 80% of the liquid helium consumed at ALBA for its superconducting magnets and ultra-low temperature experiments. The ICN2 will also benefit from the helium produced.

Despite being the second most abundant element in the universe, helium (He) is very scarce on Earth and is expected to be completely exhausted in a few decades. This inert gas, which is generated by fusing hydrogen atoms, is hidden in the subsoil of natural gas reserves and its extraction is difficult and expensive. For this reason, several systems are being explored to recover helium and enable its use in the wide range of applications it currently finds (beyond the popular balloons).

Liquid helium is essential for medical techniques like magnetoencephalography (MEG), where it is used to cool down superconducting magnets to around -270 ºC. It is also necessary for the kind of scientific experiments carried out at the ICN2 and the ALBA Synchrotron. With costs expected to double in the near future, ALBA has built a plant where helium gas can be liquefied and reused, thus guaranteeing continued access to this precious resource. The plant, fitted with equipment owned by the ICN2, will benefit both institutions.

This plant is unique in Catalonia and allows recycling of up to 25,000 litres of helium per year. It has been developed with the collaboration of the ICN2, who will also benefit from a part of the helium produced. The plant has been built next to the main building at ALBA with the collaboration of local companies. It has been fully installed with internal resources of the ALBA Synchrotron and has already completed its legalisation.

Some of the main equipment was moved from the ICN2 to the ALBA Synchrotron in 2015, under the supervision of the ICN2 Maintenance and Safety Department:

Aside from the economic savings, the plant ensures the sustainability of the equipment, being less dependent on a market with little availability and fluctuating prices and ensuring from now on enough liquid helium for two weeks without any new supply.

For more information: www.cells.es