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  • richardmitnick 4:49 am on November 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Helium,   

    From Texas A&M: “Channeling helium: Researchers take next step toward fusion energy” 

    Texas A&M logo

    Texas A&M

    1
    (Plasma Science and Fusion Center) Science Alert

    November 10, 2017
    Lorian Hopcus
    lorian.hopcus@tamu.edu

    1

    Fusion is the process that powers the sun, harnessing it on Earth would provide unlimited clean energy. However, researchers say that constructing a fusion power plant has proven to be a daunting task, in no small part because there have been no materials that could survive the grueling conditions found in the core of a fusion reactor. Now, researchers at Texas A&M University have discovered a way to make materials that may be suitable for use in future fusion reactors.

    The sun makes energy by fusing hydrogen atoms, each with one proton, into helium atoms, which contain two protons. Helium is the byproduct of this reaction. Although it does not threaten the environment, it wreaks havoc upon the materials needed to make a fusion reactor.

    “Helium is an element that we don’t usually think of as being harmful,” said Dr. Michael Demkowicz, associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. “It is not toxic and not a greenhouse gas, which is one reason why fusion power is so attractive.”

    However, if you force helium inside of a solid material, it bubbles out, much like carbon dioxide bubbles in carbonated water.

    “Literally, you get these helium bubbles inside of the metal that stay there forever because the metal is solid,” Demkowicz said. “As you accumulate more and more helium, the bubbles start to link up and destroy the entire material.”

    Working with a team of researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Demkowicz investigated how helium behaves in nanocomposite solids, materials made of stacks of thick metal layers. Their findings, recently published in Science Advances, were a surprise. Rather than making bubbles, the helium in these materials formed long channels, resembling veins in living tissues.

    “We were blown away by what we saw,” Demkowicz said. “As you put more and more helium inside these nanocomposites, rather than destroying the material, the veins actually start to interconnect, resulting in kind of a vascular system.”

    This discovery paves the way to helium-resistant materials needed to make fusion energy a reality. Demkowicz and his collaborators believe that helium may move through the networks of veins that form in their nanocomposites, eventually exiting the material without causing any further damage.

    Demkowicz collaborated with Di Chen, Nan Li, Kevin Baldwin and Yongqiang Wang from Los Alamos National Laboratory, as well as former student Dina Yuryev from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The project was supported by the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

    “Applications to fusion reactors are just the tip of the iceberg,” Demkowicz said. “I think the bigger picture here is in vascularized solids, ones that are kind of like tissues with vascular networks. What else could be transported through such networks? Perhaps heat or electricity or even chemicals that could help the material self-heal.”

    See the full article here .

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    Located in College Station, Texas, about 90 miles northwest of Houston and within a two to three-hour drive from Austin and Dallas.
    Home to more than 50,000 students, ranking as the sixth-largest university in the country, with more than 370,000 former students worldwide.
    Holds membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities, one of only 62 institutions with this distinction.
    More than $820 million in research expenditures generated by faculty-researchers
    Has an endowment valued at more than $5 billion, which ranks fourth among U.S. public universities and 10th overall.

     
  • richardmitnick 5:08 am on June 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Helium, Huge newfound deposit of helium will keep MRI scanners running,   

    From New Scientist: “Huge newfound deposit of helium will keep MRI scanners running” 

    NewScientist

    New Scientist

    27 June 2016
    Andy Coghlan

    1
    The LHC need copious amounts of helium to cool its giant magnets. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

    Prospectors have discovered a massive source of helium gas, which is vital for making MRI scanners and the Large Hadron Collider work.

    Supplies of helium – one of the world’s lightest gases – have been running short, prompting calls to ban it from leisure use in balloons so dwindling sources can be given over to scientific and medical use. Now, for the first time, a team has systematically tracked down a huge new reserve of the gas.

    The reserve, discovered beneath the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania, is so large it could fill about 600,000 Olympic swimming pools.

    “No helium has been found deliberately before,” says Chris Ballentine of the University of Oxford, joint head of the team reporting the find this week at the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference in Yokohama, Japan. “This discovery makes it very likely that similar systems can be investigated and, where the geology works in the same way, more helium deposits will be found,” he says.

    A million MRIs

    Helium is used as a coolant in medical therapies and at the LHC, while NASA uses it in its rocket fuel. The gas has several other uses too – including novelty balloons – and supplies on Earth are dwindling. “At present day usage rates, all helium in known reserves will be used up by 2030 and 2040,” says Ballentine, whose find will buy us more time.

    All helium on Earth is made from the decay of natural radioactive elements, such as uranium and thorium, which get trapped for hundreds of millions of years in ancient crustal rocks. Previous finds have come by chance.

    Ballentine’s team found the new reserve in Tanzania’s Rukwa basin by following geological clues. “Just like an oil deposit, we looked for the helium equivalent of source rock, a mechanism by which it might get released, and a geological trapping structure,” says Ballentine.

    The group searched there after working out that the Rift Valley’s volcanic activity could, over time, have provided enough heat to drive out helium caught in rocks, and trap it in underground caverns.

    Jupiter calling

    The team estimates that the reserve contains around 1.53 billion cubic metres – enough to fill 1.2 million MRI scanners, and seven times the amount of helium consumed annually.

    “Before the invention of the MRI scanner, people couldn’t imagine what we’d need lots of helium for, and it was being disposed of cheaply,” says Tom Dolphin, a consultant anaesthetist in London and spokesman on the issue for the British Medical Association. “Who knows what amazing scientific advances will require a lot of helium in the future?” he says.

    Despite the size of the new find, Dolphin warns against complacency. “Finding a new source of helium is great but it really only postpones the day when we run out,” he says. “The nearest ready supply of helium is on Jupiter, so while it’s great we have more for the time being, let’s not squander it.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 6:44 pm on December 6, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Helium   

    From ANL: “Underground helium travels to the Earth’s surface via aquifers, new study says” 

    News from Argonne National Laboratory

    December 5, 2014
    Louise Lerner

    Before it can put the party in party balloons, helium is carried from deep within the Earth’s crust to the surface via aquifers, according to new research published this week in Nature Geosciences.

    Aquifers, underground water formations that provide water to millions of people around the world, contain water that has filtered there over hundreds of millennia. Using an atom trap built at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory to date the water in a deep South American aquifer, scientists tracked the rate at which helium pooled in the aquifers. The results suggest that helium is trickling into the aquifer from deeper underground, where it is carried to the surface with the flow of water.

    The only place where helium is made on Earth is underground, where deep veins of uranium and thorium give off atoms of helium as they decay. This helium eventually makes its way to the surface, where it escapes into the atmosphere and ultimately into outer space.

    Geoscientists did not know, however, exactly how this helium gets to the surface. It can filter through rock, but extremely slowly, and the amount of helium in the atmosphere doesn’t match our estimates of how long that would take.

    Some scientists have suggested that helium is released from deeper underground during violent tectonic events like earthquakes or even from underwater volcanoes; but others thought groundwater might be a more likely route.

    Scientists knew the rate at which helium is naturally produced in the aquifer. They just needed to know how old the water was to calculate how much helium would be naturally created during that time span. If the groundwater carried more helium than the aquifers produced themselves, the source for the extra helium would be further beneath the surface.

    Luckily, a group of Argonne researchers led by physicist Zheng-Tian Lu have pioneered a dating technique that uses a very rare isotope called krypton-81. Water picks up this isotope while above ground, but not while below ground; if you know how many atoms of krypton-81 remain in a sample of water, you can tell how long it’s been in the aquifer. And krypton-81 can date much further back than carbon dating—up to a million years or more.

    The atom trap uses lasers that vibrate at the exact same frequency as krypton-81 atoms to count individual atoms. (The team has already used it to track how fast aquifers refill and to date ice in glaciers, among other uses).

    Hydrologists from the International Atomic Energy Agency and their collaborators collected samples of water from various spots around the Guarani aquifer in South America, a massive reservoir that stretches beneath Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, and extracted all the dissolved gases. Then the krypton was separated out, and finally the samples came to Argonne to have their krypton-81 atoms counted.

    m
    International Atomic Energy Agency hydrologist Luis Araguas-Araguas records data as a machine extracts gases from water samples taken from the Guarani aquifer in South America. The green LED on the front panel indicates the temperature of the water (in this case, 40.9°C, or 106°F). “Generally, the deeper the groundwater, the hotter it is,” said Argonne scientist Wei Jiang, who coauthored a study to track helium as it moves from underground to the surface. Photo by Wei Jiang, Argonne National Laboratory.

    a
    The Guarani aquifer underlays large parts of South America; it supplies water to more than 15 million people. Scientists found helium pools in this aquifer and is released to the atmosphere when the water reaches the surface. Image by Marko Perendija

    The researchers found much more helium than should have been produced in the aquifer itself during the time the water spent there, which indicates that the helium has been filtering up from below and pooling in the aquifer.

    “The difference in helium was a factor of 10—quite significant,” said Argonne physicist Wei Jiang, who coauthored the paper. “This gives us the first solid data for the groundwater scenario.”

    According to the paper’s rough estimate, about half of the helium produced in the crust makes its way to the surface via aquifer.

    “So the helium in your party balloon has very likely been carried around in groundwater,” Lu said.

    Scientists are interested in the global helium cycle because it and other gases are clues to the unseen and mostly mysterious goings-on underneath the Earth’s crust.

    The study’s findings are also helpful to understand aquifers, which provide drinking water and irrigation to millions of people around the world, including half the population of the United States.

    “The International Atomic Energy Agency works with its international partners to improve our understanding of ground water systems so that we can better protect and manage this vital freshwater resource,” said Pradeep Aggarwal, who led the study.

    The work was supported by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science; the development of the krypton-81 dating instrument was supported in part by the National Science Foundation.

    The paper, Continental degassing of helium-4 by surficial discharge of deep groundwater, appears in the Dec. 1 online edition of Nature Geosciences. The lead author was Pradeep Aggarwal of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as IAEA scientists Takuya Matsumoto and Luis J. Araguas-Araguas. Other authors included Argonne physicist Peter Mueller, Reika Yokochi of the University of Chicago, Neil Sturchio of the University of Illinois-Chicago, Hung Chang and Didier Gastmans of the Universidade Estadual Paulista, Roland Purtschert of the University of Bern, and Thomas Torgersen of the National Science Foundation.

    See the full article here.

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    Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. For more visit http://www.anl.gov.

    The Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory is one of five national synchrotron radiation light sources supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science to carry out applied and basic research to understand, predict, and ultimately control matter and energy at the electronic, atomic, and molecular levels, provide the foundations for new energy technologies, and support DOE missions in energy, environment, and national security. To learn more about the Office of Science X-ray user facilities, visit http://science.energy.gov/user-facilities/basic-energy-sciences/.

    Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science

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