Linde Engineering (Pullach, Germany; www.linde-engineering.com) has developed a process to recover helium, hydrocarbons and purified carbon dioxide from natural gas, while conditioning the natural gas for pipeline transport by adjusting the water and heavy-hydrocarbon dew point and the CO2 concentration. The process — presented at the Gastech conference last month in Houston — combines technologies of BASF SE (Ludwigshafen, Germany; www.basf.com) and Linde. Helium is commonly recovered from natural gas when a cryogenic separation is employed. The hybrid process eliminates the need for cryogenic conditions, giving access to a new, highly profitable He source. The process consists of two stages of Linde’s HiSelect Powered by Evonik membranes, an upstream BASF Durasorb hydrocarbon-removal unit (HRU), an integrated BASF OASE acid-gas-removal unit (AGRU) and an integrated Linde Helium PSA unit. The two HiSelect-membrane stages are simultaneously used for helium enrichment and adjustment of CO2 to pipeline specification. The PSA purifies the enriched helium up to 99.999% with a high yield. BASF’s OASE AGRU is used to selectively remove the CO2 from an internal recycle without any He or CH4 loss. BASF’s Durasorb HRU removes heavy hydrocarbons and water to meet pipeline dew point, and produce liquid hydrocarbons as valuable byproduct.
Products from natural gas
Energy spectra and residuals of RX1804 in hard state. Credit: Marino et al., 2019.
European astronomers have conducted a comprehensive study of a low-mass X-ray binary known as RX1804 (or 1RXS J180408.9–342058). The research allowed the scientists to unveil important insights into the nature of this mysterious object. The findings are detailed in a paper published September 23 on arXiv.org. Generally, X-ray binaries are composed of a normal star or a white dwarf transferring mass onto a compact neutron star or a black hole. Based on the mass of the companion star, astronomers divide them into low-mass X-ray binaries (LMXB) and high-mass X-ray binaries (HMXB). RX1804 was first identified by the ROSAT satellite in 1990 as an unclassified X-ray source. Further observations of this source resulted in classifying it as an LMXB with a neutron star showing a burst-only behavior due to very faint persistent luminosity. It was estimated then that the system is located not farther than 31,600 light years away. What puzzles astronomers is the fact that RX1804 exhibits X-ray activity at very different mass-accretion regimes, from very faint to almost the Eddington luminosity, on the timescale of years. Moreover, one study detected a helium emission line (He II) in the spectra of RX1804, which could possibly be related to a helium white dwarf nature of the companion in the system. This suggests that the object could be an ultra-compact X-ray binary (UCXB). To resolve these uncertainties, a team of astronomers led by Alessio Marino of University of Palermo, Italy, has performed a comprehensive X-ray study of RX1804 by analyzing the data from the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) spacecraft, and INTErnational Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL) space telescope. “In the present work, we used data from several X-ray telescopes, such as Swift/XRT, Swift/BAT and NuSTAR to study the evolution of the 2015 outburst and INTEGRAL/JEM-X, NuSTAR and Swift/XRT for the type-I X-ray bursts study,” the astronomers wrote in the paper. The researchers were able to distinguish hard and soft X-ray states in RX1804. Notably, the study has identified an intermediate state for the first time in this source. Such state is rarely observed in neutron star LMXBs. In the intermediate state, the arising of a hard tail above 30 keV was detected, modeled as a power law. This suggests that non-thermal processes are likely taking place during the state transition in RX1804. Additionally, a “clocked burster” behavior, with recurrence time of roughly 4,000 seconds, was also identified in this state. Moreover, in the hard state, the astronomers found that the results could be explained by a double-seeds Comptonization spectrum arising from the interaction of the spectra by two different photon sources with the same hot electron plasma. This indicates that RX1804 belongs to the so-called “two-photon” population of neutron star LMXBs. The researchers also estimated that RX1804 is located most likely some 32,600 light years away from our planet. Additionally, they excluded the possibility that the system could be a UCXB by analyzing the type-I X-ray bursts displayed from the source. “Their characteristics, combined with the clocked behavior observed during the intermediate state, point out H/He composition for the accreted material, which makes unlikely the helium dwarf nature for the companion,” the authors of the paper concluded.
Quantum computing harnesses enigmatic properties of small particles to process complex information. But quantum systems are fragile and error-prone, and useful quantum computers have yet to come to fruition.
Researchers in the Quantum Dynamics Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) devised a new method — called image charge detection — to detect electrons’ transitions to quantum states. Electrons can serve as quantum bits, the smallest unit of quantum information; these bits are foundational to larger computational systems. Quantum computers may be used to understand the mechanism of superconductivity, cryptography, artificial intelligence, among other applications. “There is a huge gap between controlling few quantum bits and building a quantum computer,” said Dr. Erika Kawakami, the lead author of a new study, published in Physical Review Letters with editor’s suggestion. “With the current state-of-art quantum bits, a quantum computer would need to be the size of a football field. Our new approach could potentially create a ten-centimeter chip.”
A New Potential for Electrons on Helium
Electrons need to be immobilized to serve as quantum bits; otherwise they move freely. To create an electron-capturing system, the researchers used liquid helium, which liquefies at cold temperatures, as a substrate. Since helium is free of impurities, these electrons are expected to retain quantum states longer than in any other materials, which is important for realizing a quantum computer. Prof. Denis Konstantinov and his collaborators, Kawakami and Dr. Asem Elarabi, placed a parallel-plate capacitor inside of a copper cell cooled to 0.2 degrees Kelvin (-272.8 degrees Celsius) and filled with condensed liquid helium. Electrons generated by a tungsten filament sat atop the liquid helium’s surface, between the two capacitor plates. Then, microwave radiation introduced into the copper cell excited electrons’ quantum states, causing the electrons to move away from the bottom capacitor plate and come closer to the top capacitor plate. The researchers confirmed the excitation of quantum states by observing an electrostatic phenomenon called image charge. Like a reflection in a mirror, image charge precisely reflects the movement of electrons. If an electron moves further from the capacitor plate, then the image charge moves alongside it. Moving forward, the researchers hope to use this image charge detection to measure an individual electron’s spin state, or quantum orbital state, without disrupting the integrity of the quantum systems. “Currently, we can detect the quantum states of an ensemble of many electrons,” Konstantinov said. “The strong point of this new method is that we can scale down this technique to a single electron and to use it as a quantum bit.”
MR Solutions’ latest liquid helium free PET-MR preclinical imaging system for the molecular research community was the subject of talks and papers on simultaneous PET-MR imaging at the World Molecular Imaging Congress held in Montreal in September. Combined PET-MR imaging is becoming the standard for new scanners in preclinical research. The Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology (MIR) at Washington University School of Medicine discussed their experience and initial studies following the installation of MR Solutions’ PET-MR dual field 3T/7T scanner. One of their studies was also outlined in a separate poster session where research using MR Solutions’ 7T MRI scanner was discussed. MR Solutions’ latest PET-MR imaging system for molecular research provides dual scanning capability which significantly improves the quality of the images and the length of time normally taken to conduct separate imaging studies. The PET-MRI capability can be through MR Solutions’ clip on PET scanner for sequential scanning or within the bore for simultaneous scanning. PET-MRI is highly effective for the imaging of tumours, hearts and brains in rodents for oncology, cardiology and neurology research. The liquid helium free PET-MRI system combines high field 3T to 9.4T MRI imaging for the exquisite structural and functional characterisation of tissue with the extreme sensitivity of PET imaging for metabolism and tracking of uniquely labelled cell types or cell receptors. The imaging results have the best spatial resolution on the market at <0.7mm. For simultaneous imaging, the PET capability is provided by solid state detectors which are incorporated within the bore of the MRI scanner. To complete the simultaneous imaging, the images are fused together in real time to give a much more detailed image of the animal with the advantages of both scanning techniques. MR Solutions received the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise 2019 in recognition of the company’s innovative PET imaging technology for use in preclinical research. The company also supplies a clip-on PET module for sequential scanning which can also be used independently as a stand-alone scanner. Fabrice Chaumard, Sales & Marketing Director at MR Solutions said, “We are thrilled that our PET-MR technology is now becoming the standard in PET-MR imaging. We are seeing a rapid increase not only in enquiries but being the scanning solution in published research papers. There is rapid acceptance and growth for this within the research community and we are continuing to innovate in this area.” The World Molecular Imaging Congress (WMIC) is organised by the World Molecular Imaging Society (WMIS), and is led by senior academic and industry professionals who are exemplars from the molecular imaging community. Previous events have been held across the world in Seattle, Philadelphia, New York, Honolulu, Korea, France, Canada, Japan, California, Ireland and Georgia. MR Solutions is the world technology leader in preclinical, liquid helium free MRI scanners with multi-modality capability in PET and SPECT. Recently it has very successfully added CT scanners to its range. All MR Solutions’ scanners use common animal bed and other animal handling solutions to speed up transfers and help reduce costs. The company which is headquartered in the UK, has offices in North America and a network of technical support people and organisations across the world.
Helium exploration equipment
Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe. But here on Earth it’s in much shorter supply. As demand has increased, companies have aggressively ramped up helium exploration in the U.S.—including northern Arizona. Beyond making balloons float or raising the pitch of the human voice, helium has key uses in medical fields, computer technology, even space exploration and deep-water SCUBA diving. In recent years a global shortage has resulted, driving up prices on the open market. The industry is planning to explore for helium in east-central Arizona near Holbrook. It’s already known as one of the world’s richest fields—and has been called “the Saudi Arabia of helium.” A Canadian company is developing a nearly 40,000-acre project there, dubbed “Heliopolis,” expected to produce an unusually high-grade-version of the gas. This domestic production boom worries many residents and environmental groups. Much of the area’s helium occurs within the Coconino Aquifer—an important supply of fresh groundwater for the region. The groups say common drilling techniques like acid fracking could threaten that water source. So far, the company hasn’t confirmed plans to use fracking for helium, and says its drilling process is safe. But citizen groups have mobilized to try to prevent the development. The same company is also exploring for helium east of the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff. It holds leases on state land adjacent to a city-owned parcel earmarked as a future municipal groundwater source. That’s raised questions and concerns in the community about how the surge in global helium use could affect Arizona’s towns and cities.