Helium Gas Recovery: Here’s How It is Done
Customization is born out of highly specific needs. With the rising scarcity of helium, the challenge now is for helium compressor manufacturers to devise ways to recapture, conserve, and recycle this precious resource.
Helium: A Scarce Noble Gas
With its low boiling point and small atomic diameter, helium is a noble gas with wide-ranging industry applications. Today, it is used to detect leakage, cool down magnets in different equipment, and help facilitate cryogenic research, among others.
However, it has limited availability (it’s derived from natural gas and is found in low concentrations), and it can quickly escape into the upper atmosphere. This — coupled with high demand — makes it even more scarce. To recover this gas cost-effectively, custom pressure vessels and other components are essential.
The Right Compressor for Helium Conservation
While helium can be used for different applications, its innate characteristics make it more challenging to conserve. And the design of traditional compressors is not adequate to prevent helium leakage.
To conserve a gas like helium, special features should be in place. For example, helium compressor manufacturers need special valves and gaskets to prevent helium — which has a low atomic size and viscosity — from escaping. Compressors should also have adhesive sealants as another leak-prevention measure.
At each stage of compression, there’s a need for safety valves and precise sealants at those valves. This prevents helium from being expelled into the surrounding air. Instead, it is redirected to a priming chamber attached to the enclosed valves.
The concern, however, it is not just about helium leaking into the atmosphere. External factors should also be prevented from contaminating the noble gas. As a countermeasure, manufacturers need to employ double-sealing compressors designed for helium compression.
A Three-Stage Test
To guarantee that helium compressors will be effective in their job, manufacturers should also subject them to thorough a three stage test. This is a more extensive test compared to its conventional counterpart where static leak rate is the only statistic being measured. The goal of this is to evaluate and ensure that the compressor has sufficient gas tightness.
In the test, overpressure is applied to the compressor containing helium. Then, it is submerged in water. If there are bubbles, it means that there is leakage. Afterward, the compressor will be subjected to a vacuum. This second stage (i.e., pressure-rise test) aims to ensure that no contaminants can enter the unit.
The final stage involves a pressure-decay test. It measures the possible loss of helium at a given final pressure.
Why Use Special Helium Compressors
With the help of specially designed compressors, manufacturers can guarantee the lowest possible helium gas loss. The purity of helium can also be safeguarded.
These compressors are important because helium leakage can be quite costly. As stated earlier, the noble gas is challenging to obtain and is increasingly in demand. The scarcity of helium has only led to its rising price. Any preventable leak is considered a significant loss for any industry player that uses helium.
Moreover, helium compressors have a longer lifespan. They are designed to operate for up to 292 days per year. This is much longer than the average compressor’s 8 to 42-day service life.