Like many of its sibling noble gases, xenon was first discovered in 1898 by Sir William Ramsay and M W Travers.
However, unlike its chemical family which is renowned for being non-toxic, chemically inert, and as the name suggests, benevolent- xenon is reputed for its far less stable, compound forms.
The element’s curious name derives from ‘xenos’, meaning stranger in Greek. Indeed, this seems apt as the Russian speciality gas manufacturer and supplier, Akela-N, was keen
to alert gasworld to the many guises and faces of xenon, from fuelling space craft to filling window panes.
Applications include medicine, the space industry, lighting, electronics, chemical technology, gas ionic lasers, exotic diving gases and in thermal mirrors and windows. Adding to this, recent scientific investment suggests that xenon will become an invaluable ‘smoking gun’ to detect nuclear reactions.
Though typically monatomic, odourless, colourless, tasteless, non-toxic, chemically inert and inorganic, xenon has a boiling point of -108˚C and is one of the heaviest gases, with a litre weighing 5.842 grams. Furthermore, as a zero valance element, xenon forms compounds with very different properties to itself. For instance, many of xenon’s compounds are highly toxic due to their strong oxidising characteristics.
Pure xenon occurs naturally in the atmosphere at levels of approximately one part in twenty million. On a commercial basis, it is obtained from liquefied natural air and answers a worldwide annual demand of around 0.6 tonnes. Fortunately, it may be economically recovered in large ASUs or ammonia production plants.
Xenon’s link with the noble gases is particularly prominent in the case of krypton. It is often associated with Kr as both gases are coveted for their overall inertness coupled with their high molecular weight. In comparative terms, xenon is about three times heavier than argon and approximately three to four times as heavy as nitrogen.
These properties are particularly valuable in multi-pane windows to reduce heat loss due to convection between the panes, as well as in light bulbs in which the high molecular weight slows evaporation of the hot tungsten filament and thus ensures longer lifetimes. Akela-N told gasworld that xenon is twice as efficient as krypton and three times that of argon in providing thermal conductivity between panes.
The future face of xenon
The eastern distributor and supplier of inert gases, Akela-N, has operated in the international gas market since 1990.
Fedor Kolesov, Head of Foreign Affairs at the firm, informed gasworld, “Since 1999, after getting an appropriate pharmacopoeia, Akela-N has been focusing on the promotion of xenon applications in medicine. Since then medical xenon, registered under the trademark ‘Ksemed’, became a popular anaesthetic with unique characteristics.”
Kolesov explained that ‘Ksemed’ has been in clinical circulation for over ten years and benefits from accreditation from the Russian Health Ministry.
However, perhaps most interesting in terms of future growth, is the recent scientific testing of medical xenon, ‘Ksemed’ on children. Which Kolesov asserted, “is an outstanding fact for any medicine and a really extraordinary one for any gas.”
This unique research is only three months into its lifetime and has been guided by the auspices of Professor Leonid Roshal and the Science Research Institute of Children’s Surgery and Traumatology.
In light of this investment, xenon appears to address an only growing gamut of applications. Kolesov concluded, “Akela-N believes that the medical application of Xe hides a great potential of consumption growth and in the foreseeable future the whole xenon market will be highly influenced by a growing demand originating in the medical sphere.”