A sustainable approach to ‘slippery’ gas
Much like a balloon filled with helium, the gas itself can also be very hard to keep a handle on. In our laboratories helium is used for the study of the behaviour of materials at very low temperatures and research in to medical advancements, but the element becomes what is known as “super fluid” at temperatures below -269 degrees Celsius.
Its slippery nature means it can flow up and out of any container and there’s potential for large amounts of it be wasted. I work on the University’s Helium Recovery Project, which is designed to recapture and reuse as much of this escaped helium as possible. I also operate the School of Physics’ helium liquefier plant, which recycles the gas coming from research experiments.
Helium is a finite resource so it is vital to recapture the wasted gas where we can. This means the University is protected against dramatic price fluctuations and any potential helium shortages. Ultimately, it means we can keep low temperature research going for as long as possible.
"Helium is a finite resource so it is vital to recapture the wasted gas where we can "
In 2015 the University of Nottingham won a Green Gown Award for this work. The awards recognise exceptional sustainability initiatives within universities and colleges. One of the key uses for helium is within MRI scanners, where it is used to turn the magnets in the machine into ‘super conducting’ magnets. This is done by keeping the magnets at a temperature of around -269 Celsius and creates a strong and stable magnetic field.
Knowing that my work helps contribute to research into drug discovery for diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s, as well as being environmentally sustainable, makes me very proud.
Sanjeev Taak is a Cryogenic Liquids and Gas Handling/Engineering Technician, School of Physics and Astronomy.