Cryogenic technology refers to the tools and processes that help produce low-temperature environments where liquefied gases can be stored and transported.
While this discipline has been developing since the 19th century, it’s experiencing an unprecedented expansion guided by increasing demand of cryo technology by a number of industries. Keep reading to have a look at cryogenic tech at a whole: from its history to its future outlook.
A brief history: the origins of cryogenic technology
Cryogenics were first developed in the 19th century, when a number of scientists experimented with liquefying gases at low temperatures.
Some important milestones in cryogenic technology included:
- Michael Faraday succeeded in liquefying almost every gas known by 1945, although he wasn’t able to succeed with oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon monoxide, methane, and nitric oxide.
- The discovery to absolute zero (the lowest temperature possible) was described by Lord Kelvin. He then inaugurated the Kelvin scale, where –459°F or –273°C corresponds to 0K, as it’s a state where no heat energy exists.
- The liquefaction of hydrogen by Sir James Dewar, who also developed cryogenic dewars or dewar containers, the right tanks for storing cryogenics.
- The liquefaction of helium gas, which presents the lowest boiling point for any known substance ( 4.2K or –452°F) and was performed by Heike Kammerling Onnes.
Methods of producing cryogenic temperatures
- Heat conduction: it’s achieved by immersing samples in cryogenic liquids or cryogenic atmospheres.
- Evaporative cooling: this process uses the energy from water evaporation in order to drop the surrounding atmosphere’s temperature.
- Cooling by rapid expansion (the Joule-Thompson effect): this effect provides a temperature drop when forced through a valve or porous plug, as pressure is applied by rapidly expanding its volume.
- Adiabatic demagnetization: through this process, paramagnetic salts are used to absorb heat.
- Laser cooling: a more recent procedure involves the use of lasers instead of electromagnets, which help reducing energy in elements and thus provide a cooling effect.
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Latest advances in cryogenic technology
In the past years, cryogenic engineering has evolved in new and unprecedented applications, so it has become essential for a number of industries. Some of the most interesting developments include:
Cryogenics in space travelling
There’s an increased use of active refrigeration and cryogenic technology in space travelling, as the production of space cryocoolers has shown great performance and capability to date.
More specifically, cryogenic rocket engines comprise cryogenic fuel and oxidizer, which provide superior drive for propellants. In other words, rocket engines that use cryogenic technology benefit from an added thrust for every kg of propellant, working as boosters for engines and well known in space programs around the world.
Cryo technology has also become indispensable for some specific applications in the space industry, such as vehicles with a single step to orbit.
Cryogenics for transportation
Many transportation companies are incorporating the use of cryogenic technology by using superconductors in order to power electric aircrafts. Hydrogen fuel cells have become an important recent development.
Into the future: What will the future of cryogenic tech look like?
Cryogenic technology is increasingly demanded by a wide range of industries, and thus the market for cryogenic products is expected to experience a significant growth in the next few years. For instance, the cryogenic equipment market value is expected to rise to 31.68 billion USD by 2026 (from 18.42 billion USD in 2018), as reported by PR Newswire.
This growth will be propelled by the following advances in cryogenic tech:
Hydrogen in the aircraft industry
The struggle for becoming a green industry and curtailing CO2 emissions from the aircraft industry (it’s now estimated that 2% of global CO2 emissions come from aviation) means that they are increasingly looking for new alternatives to fossil fuels.
Using hydrogen as fuel has become one of the most sought-after solutions. For instance, NASA is working on a project to create an electric aircraft that works on a cryogenic hydrogen fuel cell system. These systems will contain compressed hydrogen to start the process of PEM fuel cells.
Hydrogen-based aircrafts can not only become a “greener” solution for the aircraft industry, but can also deliver a higher range, which means the industry will increasingly be interested in adopting this solution.
Just like the aircraft industry, other transportation methods (including the car industry) are increasingly experimenting with hydrogen and finding new solutions in cryogenic technology for greener, more efficient technologies.
In the next few years, hydrogen cars are very likely to become a reality. In such a scenario, hydrogen’s chemical energy will be converted into electrical energy through a series of fuel cells. This fuel cell system will convert the chemical energy from hydrogen and ambient oxygen to generate power for an electric motor. At the same time, the low-temperature requirements of hydrogen systems will also provide the opportunity to use superconducting power transmission.
This system is also being considered by other means of transport, such as ships and trucks.
Increased use of LNG
An increased demand for LNG will be driving the market for cryogenic technology and propelling new developments in the field in the next few years. As more and more countries increasingly rely on LNG for their energy supplies, the demand for cryogenic tanks and equipment for the storage and transportation of this element will increase.
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Cryospain’s role in cryogenic technology: present and future
At the present moment, Cryospain is one of the leading companies providing cryogenic engineering for diverse industries and their needs, including the supply of equipment, technical support, and maintenance.
At this point, two main lines vertebrate our offer for the cryo technology market:
- LIN & LOX tanks – All the important gases that possess a significant market value are kept in these tanks. These tanks are mainly used to store Liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen, being the most effective, economic and simple storage solution, and providing a long storage life.
- CRYOLINE: our high-vacuum, insulated pipes are used for a safe transportation of LIN, LOX, LAR, GNL, LHe, LH2 and LNG. These provide a changeable filling system and excellent protection from temperature transfer. We’re able to generate a custom design with advanced 3D software and structural verification using finite element programs.
At the same time, Cryospain is currently expanding to generate a new cryogenic tech product that goes hand in hand with current developments in the field: our large vacuum insulated cryogenic pressure vessels, which will be produced in a new 1400 m2 production plant in our hometown, Madrid.
Thus, at Cryospain we make sure we keep up with our clients’ need for efficient and safe cryogenic technology, while providing state-of-the-art equipment that matches the industries’ new developments.
Want to learn more about how we provide tailor-made cryogenic technology for our clients? Download our Pump skid case study.