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GE Healthcare plans to deal with shrinking world helium supplies by more efficiently using the helium it has. It broke ground this week on a $17 million helium liquefaction facility next to its MRI production plant in Florence, South Carolina.

Helium, compressed into an extremely cold liquid form, is essential for keeping MRI magnets at a superconducting 440 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Each magnet is encased in a sealed vacuum system containing up to several thousand liters of helium.

During MRI manufacturing, some helium boils away as waste. That’s where the new facility comes in. Trina Folk, GE’s Florence MR production plant manager, told DOTmed News:

As it evaporates, helium resembles the steam that comes from a kettle as water boils. The facility will capture this and turn it back into a liquid form.

The production plant uses 5.5 million liters of helium a year. “Approximately one third of this helium currently ships with the magnets,” Folk said. “With the new facility, there is an opportunity to capture an additional third of this helium for reuse in magnet production.”

GE uses another 6 million liters annually in servicing its U.S. MRI systems. Bizarrely, however, even though world supplies of this element necessary for MRI machines are getting tight, the United States is selling its Federal Helium Reserve, which supplies 30 percent of the world’s helium.

A deficit-fighting 1996 law required the government to sell the helium by 2015 to pay off the reserve’s $1.3 billion debt. However, the debt is now expected to be paid by this October, earlier than expected, so a bipartisan bill to stop the closure is making its way through the U.S. Congress. It has passed the House and awaits Senate action.

The bill would reserve the last 3 billion cubic feet of helium for national security and scientific needs.

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One Response to “GE Invests $17 Million To Reclaim MRI Helium”

  1. Radiology Daily»AlertArchive » Helium Shortage Looms; Congress Dithers on August 6th, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    […] Helium Reserve is scheduled to shut down in October—a situation we’ve covered previously here, here, and here. That would cut off helium production equal to 40 percent of U.S. […]