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Noble gas under pressure – Sauer compressors used as reliable helium compressors at Forschungszentrum Jülich

sauer-april-2Helium has the lowest boiling point of all gases at -269 °C. As a result, liquid helium is frequently used as a cooling medium. This is the case at the Jülich Research Centre (FZJ). “Nowadays we mainly use liquid helium for cooling superconductors in computer tomographs, for example for brain research and biotechnology”, says Ulrich Sieberichs, supervisor in the supply department for cryogenic gases at the FZJ.
“From day one, we recovered the gas that evaporates during the tests, but initially only relatively locally in a small section of the research centre”. However, because of the scarcity of helium and the associated price increases and supply problems, the recovery network in Jülich has been continuously expanded over recent years, and almost the entire research centre – over 2 km2 – is now connected.
Around 70 % of the helium used is now recovered. To compress the recovered gas, the FZJ has always used three compressors produced by Sauer Compressors. “Unlike our competitors, who supply ordinary air compressors for use with helium, our range includes compressors specially modified for helium”, says Ralf Kienemund, Regional Sales Manager for the compressor manufacturer.
The systems are based on conventional air compressors, specially fitted with seals for use with helium. “Thanks to our years of experience and collaboration with industry experts, we have managed to design compressors that are almost one hundred percent helium proof”, Kienemund reveals. The special adaptations mean that the helium compressors have an exceptionally low leak rate, a maximum of 0.1 mbar x l/s.
Three Hurricane WP 4351 type four-stage piston compressors from Sauer Compressors are now used in the helium recovery plant in Jülich. “The biggest advantage of the Sauer compressors is that they are always running”, says Ulrich Sieberichs. "Our three old Sauer compressors worked perfectly for over 40 years”. In 2005, they were replaced with three new Hurricane WP 4351 models. “The old compressors were still running, but we simply needed more power. More and more consumers have gradually been connected to the recovery system, and the research centre itself has grown massively over the last years and decades”, Sieberichs explains.
“With both the old and new compressors, we have had practically no downtimes due to any kind of damage. The regular servicing by Sauer eradicates any minor issues immediately”. The FZJ set up a service contract with the manufacturer, under which the compressors are serviced once a year.
“Servicing and spare parts ordering work perfectly”, Sieberichs says. “The only thing we have to do is drain the oil that is discharged with the helium once a week”.
Excerpt from “Noble gas under pressure” by Martina Bopp; the complete article can be found in the journal ‚Der Betriebsleiter’, 11–12/2013

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