As headlines continue to surround the future of the helium market and supply stability, it has emerged that engineers from Linde North America are actively working with industry to develop alternatives.
According to the company, several segments of industry are working with its engineers on new product developments that lead to lower helium requirements, without sacrificing application quality.
This objective has already experienced some success, from less helium usage in shielding gas mixtures for arc welding, to substituting nitrogen for helium in cold spray coating processes.
Cold spraying is a coating technology that differs from traditional thermal spray processes in temperature and velocity of the powder particles that are deposited on the target surface. The high speeds with which the particles are deposited has previously been achieved using helium as a propellant, but developments with regards to nozzle and gas supply technology now allow users to use nitrogen in many cases.
In terms of metal fabrication, shielding gas mixtures for arc welding can also be modified to use less helium. MISON® shielding gases use small nitric oxide (NO) additions to achieve higher heat input through a concentrated, stable arc and, at the same time, offer the additional benefit of reducing harmful ozone emissions of the welding process.
Even in leak detection, there are areas in which helium substitution is reportedly finding success, including in fuel injection systems for automobiles and in refrigeration coils.
Joe Berkmanns, national technical manager for Linde Canada, reflected, “Helium has become the fluid of choice for many industrial processes, mostly because of its physical and thermal properties. However, there are certain areas where we have successfully substituted for helium, or reduced the amount of helium required, with little or no adverse effect on quality, productivity or process robustness.”