This installation allows recycling 80% of the liquid helium consumed in ALBA for operating the superconducting magnets and for experiments at ultra-low temperatures.
Despite being the second most abundant element in the universe, helium is very scarce on Earth and it 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 some natural gas reserves and its extraction is expensive and difficult to obtain. This is why different systems are being explored to recover helium and thus facilitate its application in the wide range of equipment in which it is used (beyond the popular balloons).
Liquid helium is basic for the operation of medical equipment such as magnetoencephalography (MEG) to cool down the superconducting magnets they contain to almost 270 ºC. It is also necessary for carrying out different scientific experiments; at the ALBA Synchrotron there are currently two superconducting magnets: one for producing synchrotron light in one of the beamlines and the other one for the sample area of another beamline, needing both a considerable amount of helium. Besides, four of the eight beamlines use it to keep cold the samples that must be analysed when they are irradiated with synchrotron light.
In order to guarantee the availability of this limited substance (it is foreseen that its cost will double in the near future), ALBA has built a plant to liquefy the helium gas and reuse it again once liquefied.
“With the new plant we can recycle 80% of the helium that we consume in our experiments and save more than € 10 per litre nowadays”, says Joan Casas, Head of the Engineering division of the ALBA Synchrotron.