Helium Recovery Recycling System

I manage a helium recovery system. Labs use liquid helium for their experiments and I recover that helium as gas and liquidfy it.

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Detailing how helium is recovered and the infrastructure that is involved in recycling helium

Helium LiquidfiersPiping diagram of how the system was layed outIts my first time trying to document something. Sorry in advance if its a bit chaotic... 

I manage and maintain a helium recovery system for a lab. We have a closed cycle helium recovery system. I give labs liquid helium and they use it and it comes back to the system as gas. 

We use liquid helium because of its cold temperatures. Regularly at 4.2k. We recycle helium because its fairly expensive to get and its not a very renewable resource. a big part of my job is to babysit the machines and make sure they are working properly. 

  • installing gas metering

    Meow06/12/2022 at 06:24 0 comments

    We recently bought some gas meters by EKM metering. They have some pretty fancy IOT style metering options for sale. We bought the EKM push and omnimeter pulse v.4

    Helium gas meter installed to measure the gas flow. We can see which lab uses helium and it can log the data. Its good to know if a lab uses helium and make sure what is being sent from the lab also gets returned back to our system. 

    please excuse my messy wiring. I used Circular power connectors From TE connectivity for the pulse wiring and the pressure guage sensor wires. 

  • failures and mistakes

    Meow06/12/2022 at 06:08 0 comments

    Loose connection for our 3 phase plugs. Over time the plug socket loosened and created some hot joints in the wire. Respliced and replaced the wall outlet and plug end. 
    We were troubleshooting and pumping down the vacuum jacket in the cryomech automatic purifier with a turbo pump. A lab had installed new equipment and it was leaking air into the system which I think made the purifier act funny and die... =( 
    There was a time where we had air go into the liquefier and froze our system with liquid air. Our purifier had failed and we didn't catch the issue till it was to late. We had to warm up to room temperature and then connect a vacuum pump on the liquid space of the Dewar to remove any contaminates. Photo below was a connection from the dewar space into a recovery bag. The gas was pretty cold and started cooling everything around it. 
    respilcing new plugs. 

    Purity manifold. Top is moisture count in helium. Measured in Parts per million. Below is percent oxygen in the helium space. That reading should usually read 0.00. We had a really bad leak in the system.

  • Pressure testing lines

    Meow06/12/2022 at 06:01 0 comments

    We had to relocate a few of the machines to accommodate the big liquidfier so we set up a new stainless steel line and some water lines.  Tested with helium at the rated pressures and then i left it for a week and checked on the pressures once in a while.

  • the process of gas helium being captured and liquidfied

    Meow06/12/2022 at 05:48 0 comments

    First the helium is sent from the labs through piping throughout our building. The building was designed to have helium recovery in mind. Most of it is hard soldered copper 2" throughout. Older parts of the building use regular black iron pipe. 

    It h its our rubber balloon. Once it hits the high limit sensor it triggers a Jordair compressor. 
    rubber helium ballon that captures all the labs helium
    Our jordair compressor compresses the helium to max 2500PSI. We have banks of 12 bottles and total of 36 bottles that can be opened in the system.jordair helium compressor to compress helium in bulk storage gas bottles
    We then regulate it down to 50-80 PSI

    The gas is sent to our purifier. How it works is it basically freezes the gas. Most gasses liquidfy well above liquid helium temperatures. So we have a quantum design branded purifier. It uses a gifford mcmahon cryocooler  to freeze the gas to 10-30K and everything that comes out of the purifier is fairly pure helium. 99.999 percent pure. Our inlet purity for helium needs to be at least 99.9 percent pure or better. If its contaminated with air or oxygen. The purifier warms up to 130K to exhaust the other gasses and then cools back down to temps between 10-30K. 

     We had a cryomech purifier but it failed a few months back. The manufacture suggested we try a few things and replace a few parts. But due to how complex the boards were, we were unable to fix the issue. We are planning to send the unit back to the factory for refurbishment. 

    The liquid helium level is measured once an hour with a liquid level indicator. It is a superconducting strip inside the dewar space. As it liquidfys helium. the strip becomes superconducting and the resistance of the wire changes. That is calculated and we get a measurement in inches. We have a corresponding chart where we determine the amount inside the dewar. 

    Once there is enough liquid inside the liquidfier. We can do a transfer to a portable Dewar that gets sent to the labs. We insert the transfer siphon into the dewar and we also connect the gas exhaust from the dewar into the recovery system. The transfer process is quite inefficient. A regular transfer will lose around 30 percent of the liquid each transfer. All of that turns into gas and we capture it.  The gas outlet is cold enough that it liquidfys the air around it... 

    helium transfer process. The frosty line goes to the rubber bag to capture the boil off of the gas helium during transfers

    The labs uses the helium for their microscopes and other experiments and then the cycle repeats.

  • Setting up a new liquidfier

    Meow06/12/2022 at 05:31 0 comments

    Finished installation of the liquidfier unit.

    This is our bigger liquidfier. I installed this over a few months. We had to run braided stainless steel helium lines to the pulse tubes to the external compressors. The units are from CryoMech. It has a 500L dewar and it can liquidfy 60L a day.

    Installing stainless lines. Very fragile and easily damaged. It took a few guys to run each line and they did not like to be bent in certain ways. It was very stiff

    More photos of the compressors. They use pulse tube refrigerators. The compressors are similar to a hvac style compressor. It has a Hitachi Scroll compressor unit inside modified for helium use. Each stainless steel line is pressurized to 200 PSI and it uses helium as a refrigerant. 

    I had to move the liquidfier away first to set up the lines. We had a overhead crane at our facility to lift it in place.
    Finished product. Sadly the computer that was sent to use died and our RMA package was actually lost when we shipped it back to the company. Our temporarily permanent computer in place of the official unit.This took place between 2020-2021 It took a few months to set up and fully finish. It took a while to run the electrical, set up plumbing for water and run the helium gas lines.

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