Cryogenics technology is an important part of the science being done at STFC and it partly relies on a scarce resource: helium.
Delegates from the research community, industry and even a local school met at the 2019 Cryogenics Cluster Day at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) to take a look at the importance of the noble gas to the sector.
Helium is used as a coolant in in a variety of fields including the refrigeration of food, cooling healthcare technologies like Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), space science and the defence industry.
At STFC, helium is used to cool components at ISIS Neutron and Muon Source (ISIS) and Diamond Light Source, but prices have been rising as global resources deplete. The Cluster day at RAL showcased a number of ways the issue is being addressed, from recovering helium at ISIS to the possibility of exploring Oxfordshire's subsurface for a UK national supply of the gas.
ISIS's Richard Down explained that helium enables the cooling of samples to near absolute zero, giving a very high level of detail in the materials being investigated. Helium does this job, but at a cost – after a change of supplier after 2011, ISIS found the price rose by 30 percent in just a few months. He said the process of re-liquifying helium to reuse at the facility means it can be used for a second or even third time as a coolant.
Helium Resource Limited's Neil Ritson also outlined intriguing plans to explore the local area for helium deposits. The Berkshire-based company believes that if their plan comes to fruition it could lead the UK in becoming self-sufficient in supplies of the gas. The company's project plan is to drill three to five test wells if they can obtain exploration licenses from the UK government and emphasise that this kind of drilling is safe, clean and quick.
Other speakers included industry professional Richard Clarke, from Predict Ability, who gave delegates an overview of the challenges to supply faced by all helium users. University of Oxford's Chair of Geochemistry, Chris Ballentine, outlined research being done around the large deposits of helium found in recent years in Tanzania, east Africa. Air Liquide gave a talk on the company's helium storage facility in Germany and how it can help stabilise supply.
The Cryogenics Cluster Day also hosted industry and research exhibitors and offered a tour of ISIS's Helium Recycling Facility.
For more information on cryogenics at STFC, visit the our cryogenics area.
Visit the CCD9 page for more information and copies of the presentations.
Last updated: 11 June 2019