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Extreme cryogenics: serving the future

Published on March 30, 2021

3 minutes

Extreme cryogenics, the science of ultra-low temperatures (close to absolute zero, or -273,14°C), has been an Air Liquide expertise for many years. Essential for cooling and liquefying many gases, extreme cryogenics is key in many areas, including highly innovative ones.

For more than 50 years, the Group has been developing innovative cryogenic technologies for space exploration. But these technologies also serve a diverse range of industries on planet Earth, from industrial manufacturing and transportation to scientific research.

Optimising the transport of liquefied natural gas (LNG) or biomethane

One particularly successful application is Turbo-Brayton, originally developed to keep biological samples cold on the International Space Station. In orbit since 2006 without any maintenance, this solution is increasingly popular among shipping companies transporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) between producing and consuming countries.

Onboard large LNG tankers, it prevents “boil-off” during transport when the gas, cold in its liquid state (-160°C), warms up and partially evaporates (up to 6 metric tons per hour). To limit the financial losses and the negative environmental impact of these “fugitive” CO₂ emissions, shippers are increasingly requiring shipowners to fit their ships with preventative systems. The efficiency and reliability of the Turbo-Brayton solution also opens the door to renewable energy applications. For example, it can be used to liquefy biogas from recovery plants, which produce methane from household, agricultural and industrial waste. In its liquid form, the gas can then be easily transported to its point of use, such as refueling stations for natural gas vehicles. These initiatives have already been introduced in the Nordic countries in Europe. Having sold around 60 units, Air Liquide will enable savings of around 290,000 metric tons of CO₂-equivalent emissions annually, once all units are in operation.

Ultra-low temperatures for new heights in research

Reinforcing its 60 years of experience in extreme cryogenics, in 2020, Air Liquide acquired an 80% stake in Cryoconcept, a French company specializing in ultra-low temperature refrigeration. This acquisition enables the Group to offer temperatures as low as -273.14°C or 0.01°K above absolute zero, which are essential to many areas of scientific research, as well as the operation of the most powerful quantum computers.

The Group will also be supporting large-scale research experiments, thanks to a new agreement with the Hefei Institutes of Physical Science and the Chinese Academy of Science (HFIPS) to jointly develop and manufacture helium refrigeration systems in China.

Thanks to its technological expertise, Air Liquide is constantly innovating and adapting its solutions to meet the needs of its customers, while opening the path to new markets. This expertise perfectly positions the Group in the race for future growth.

Interested in the Turbo-Brayton technology? Discover more about this technology, which has seen spectacular commercial and industrial upturn, in this dedicated article.

This article is an extract from the 2021 Shareholders’ guide.

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