As manufacturers face yet another helium shortage and increasing costs for the rationed supply, many are looking at reclaim systems to optimize their helium usage. These systems can, depending upon the application, recover up to 95% of helium for reuse.
In this post, we’ll review the main components of a helium recovery system and the considerations that will affect they type of solution required. Let’s start by getting an overview of how a gas recycling system works.
What is a helium recovery system?
Helium gas reclaim systems allow manufacturers to manage, recapture and recycle their helium supply. In a standard recovery system, vaporized helium is used in a process and recaptured through exhaust lines. These lines run to a salvage container where the gas is filtered and then analyzed for purity. If purity level meets the target, the helium is compressed into a storage tank.
The typical base components of a gas recovery solution are recovery and supply tanks, a compressor, a gas analyzer and a controls/operator interface. Helium can be reclaimed from a single local station or across multiple lines. System design and, ultimately, cost are determined by the required capacity of the solution.
Understanding capacity requirements for the recovery system
The main consideration in a helium reclaim system is understanding the capacity of on-demand helium that needs to be managed. Sizing a trace gas recovery system typically requires a calculation based on:
- Number of machines
- Test pressure
- Part volume
- Cycle time (part to part)
The compressor is the heart of the reclaim system, driving the flow of the gas throughout the process. It pulls the helium from the test, sends it to the salvage tanks and pressurizes it once it’s been filtered. Specifying the right capacity of the compressor is critical to the reclaim system. The capacity of the compressor is determined by a range of factors, starting with how much helium it has to handle at one time. The demand is based on how many stations we need to pull helium from and supply helium to at the same time.
If the stations are staggered in terms of when they vent, when helium has to be supplied, length of cycle times, etc. it may be possible to reduce the size of the compressor. If there is higher demand, a larger compressor will be required.
A reclaim system is also comprised of holding tanks or bags for the gas pulled from parts after they’ve been tested and a primary tank after it’s been repressurized. The size and number of these tanks will depend upon the desired system capacity.
To allow reclaim at a higher percentage on low pressure applications, such as a recovering something like a gas tank where we can only put atmospheric pressure inside the part, the exhaust lines to the salvage tank need to be under vacuum. But if we are putting hundreds of PSI into the part, vacuum on the exhaust lines isn’t required because the high pressure itself forces the gas through. The bigger the tanks, the bigger the compressor, the higher the pressure, the more costly the system will be.
Once the helium has been reclaimed and repressurized, the gas analyzer measures the percentage of recovered helium in that primary tank to determine the amount of helium to be added to achieve the desired mix. If a reclaim system is, say, 90% efficient, it means it is able to recover 90% back for reuse and we only need to add 10% of helium from a tank to get back up to 100%.
Determining the ROI of a helium reclaim system
The typical return on investment for a helium recovery is 18 to 24 months. It does vary by plant, system, capacity, helium usage and desired recovery goals. The online CTS Tracer Gas Recovery System ROI Calculator can help you determine whether the payback is in line with your plant’s needs.
Do you have questions about helium recovery solutions?
There are many other aspects and options to helium recovery that we can share with you based on your requirements. The proven CTS solutions use pre-engineered designs with components selected to accommodate the helium usage of each application. Contact us to talk about your requirements.