The analysis & control of specialty gases were the topics of conversation today (12th November) in gasworld’s latest webinar, sponsored by Worthington Industries.

Joined by Worthington’s own Gabriele Zeilerbauer, Blake McElmurry of Consolidated Sciences (CONSCI), and David Gailey of the Harris Products group, gasworld’s Global Managing Editor Rob Cockerill delved into a discussion centred around the key technologies that underpin the thriving ’niche-within-a-niche’ industry that is specialty gas.

Zeilerbauer, Director of European Sales for Industrial Products & Alternative Fuel Light-Duty Vehicles, began by giving the viewers an insight into specialty gas megatrends and the procedures required to fill, store, and contain gases.

Sharing her thoughts on megatrends, Zeilerbauer said that over the past two years, the shift to homebased working has seen an increase in the use of smart devices. This can be explained by lockdowns causing discretionary spending habits to shift from travel and restaurants to consumer electronics and smart home solutions.

This impacts the specialty gas industry due to the increased market demand of electronic components such as semiconductors, which utilise such gases in their production.

“This increased pressure on production and availability means electronics and gas producers are building up new capacity and paying keener focus to supply chain and inventory management,” said Zeilerbauer.

She also saw the benefits of ‘dumb’ assets in a world where smart solutions are a commonly cited megatrend.

“We acknowledge that there’s a trend to technology and smart systems that allow greater visibility and control of electronics, specialty gases, assets and their supply chain are becoming increasingly significant to mitigate traditional logistical issues and maximise asset utilisation, but smart solutions are not the only way to address containment.”

“So-called dumb assets can be deployed in very smart ways. For example, with internal finishing and polishing of steel cylinders, we can ensure that gases are filled, shipped and used at required purity levels.”

With COP26 having just taken place, there’s also pressure for industry to focus on sustainability. When asked whether there’s a sustainability component to Worthington’s specialty gas offering, she was keen to elaborate on the company’s ‘four P’s’.

Stating that the first ‘P’ stood for practices, such as purchasing of recycled materials, she added, “The second is on processes, like heat reclamation and expansion of renewables in our energy mix, so we can assure we’re not depleting infinite resources.”

“The third P goes onto our continuous efforts to light weighting our steel cylinders.”

This saving in packaging and material weight, when considered on a year-by-year basis, can account for a ‘massive pay off’ in carbon dioxide (CO2) reductions, according to Zeilerbauer.

“The fourth P stands for ‘pay off’, in CO2 emissions as an example. If you look at our steel cylinder, it has an unlimited lifetime and is typically used for more than 50 years, leading often much longer lives than human beings. After it’s lifetime, it’s 100% recycled and will be newly born as a new state of the art steel cylinder,” she concluded. 

Specialty gas analysis tools and techniques

McElmurry, Senior Scientist at CONSCI was next up. As an expert in specialty gas analysis, he was keen to extol its virtues, in addition to discussing megatrends, applications and challenges present in the industry. 

Giving a general overview of the world of specialty gas analysis, McElmurry discussed instrumentation and its capabilities. 

“One of the driving forces that we see from customers who are providing samples for analysis is the detection and quantification of impurities that are present in gas streams such as propylene, which can be used for polymerisation,” he said.

“The major problem with particularly sulphur compounds in something like propylene or ethylene is the polymerisation product can have off gas or off odours in all colours, depending on how much sulphur is present in the material.” 

By using gas chromatography (GC) ICPOES technology, CONSCI is able to detect sulphur compounds approaching one part billion per volume. 

When asked about opportunities and challenges present in the industry, McElmurry concentrated on new products that allow for optimised analytical testing techniques and instrumentation that detects certain impurities.

Mentioning that the analysis and chromatography sector is driven by detection limits, as new products are released, detection limits change and techniques have to be optimised to detect certain impurities in those compounds.

“One application that is quite important is doing implantation on silicon chips and other mechanisms by which they grow those structures, in that the concentration of certain gas mixtures is very important, it’s not so much as what the concentration is, it’s that it doesn’t change over time, “ he added.

This allows CONSCI to help customers to be able to quantify purity or to detect impurities.

Adapting to an evolving industry…

Last up was Gailey, who, as Product Manager for Specialty Gas Equipment at the Harris Products Group, is well-versed to inform viewers about the opportunities presented in specialty gas control and to provide a look into how the industry has changed over the years.

Gailey began by giving viewers an insight into the big challenges and opportunities faced in the gas control industry.

“As an equipment manufacturer, one of the challenges that I think we have is to help our customers understand how critical it is to maintain security throughout the entire system,” he said.

“Now, we may have one of Gabby’s (Zeilerbauer) beautiful Worthington cylinders that’s filled with ultra high purity helium, but if we put the wrong piece of equipment on that cylinder, then we’re going to have some contamination issues.”

This is a challenge that Gailey says can be resolved by educating customers on the appropriate equipment to use for their specialty gas applications.

Citing situations where he’s walked into analytical labs that use high purity gases and seen the gases being controlled by a 30-year old industrial regulator, which should be ‘in the scrapyard cutting steel’, Gailey asked the question, how do we educate our customers as to what’s the appropriate equipment to use?

“Number one, regulators and valves that have elastomer diaphragms, they’re just a no-no. You can’t use those on high purity gases for the simple reason that the diaphragms were manufactured with a chemical release engine on them because they’re manufactured in mas and they’re punched out with dyes.”

These dyes cannot be adequately cleaned before going into a regulatory and can therefore introduce impurities. Harris Products Group is able to recognise these issues and help educate customers on the compatibility of regulators, manifold systems, valves, and other specialty gas-related utilities.

Moving on to the evolution of the specialty gas business and the equipment that’s used, Gailey was asked how things have changed over the decades.

“Basic pressure regulation technology really hasn’t changed in 75 years now. What has changed is the fact that now we’re dealing with a gas that has a greater level of purity that it did decades ago,” he replied.

This change in purity means that certain elements of construction and equipment manufacture has to change.

“The surface finish of the internal weighted parts of regulators, valves and medical systems has to very, very smooth and to be very, very clean, so we can get a more laminar and less turbulent flow through the process.”

“So, the basic technology of how it works really hasn’t changed, the materials of construction have evolved. The gases have evolved along with that and we’ve had to make design changes to the products to really match the gas surfaces,” he concluded.

The full webinar, as well as previous webinars, can be viewed ‘on demand’ here.