Bad Soden, Germany,

Moonlight for vampires – and other remarkable gas applications

Powder production with the VarioSol process, medical gases for hospitals and doctors’ practices, cleaning with dry ice, or the Siber process for an unbroken cold chain during food transportation – Messer supplies gases for a wide and diverse range of applications, some of which are quite unusualor just plain strange. on air takes a look at the most remarkable applications.

Messer has literally got to the root of a problem in Vienna. The citizens of the Austrian capital are extremely protective of their trees. But what do you do when trees – naturally – do not abide by the general rules of coexistence and, as in our case, the roots of three protected elm trees threaten to destroy a fountain? Peter Bauer and his colleagues from Messer in Austria came up with the solution: 15 lances were inserted to a depth of 17 metres around the fountain and connected to a loop. Liquid nitrogen was pumped, via this loop, into the groundwater zone until the water temperature inside the fountain had reached 1 degree Celsius. This caused the fine water roots of the elm trees, which had become firmly embedded right round the fountain, to be frozen off without harming the trees. As a result, the fountain will be safe for approximately two years.

The “Nephelios” airship, which was unveiled to the public by SOL’R at the end of last year, will in future lift off with helium from Messer. The only solarpowered manned airship in the world, which was de - signed and built by a team of 50 experts from SOL’R and several French engineering colleges, is vastly superior to planes and helicopters in terms of load capacity and energy consumption. The “Nephelios” prototype holds 350 cubic metres of helium and gets all its energy from flexible photovoltaic modules mounted on the airship. This technological advance is of major significance for the future of airships and aviation as a whole.

On a slightly smaller scale, but no less innovative, are the radio-controlled “Videodrone” blimps, which also defy gravity with helium. Logos or entire films can be projected onto the blimp’s illuminated exterior via the on-board video equipment. The spectators on the ground feel like they are looking at a screen that is floating freely in the sky. “Videodrone” has already captivated audiences at numerous events. Messer is planning to use this dynamic communication tool at a number of events in France.

Vampires were on the loose in the Hungarian town of Miskolc at the end of last year – creeping eerily through the bright moonlight. We are talking about a film set, of course – but here too, helium from Messer was used. Most of the scenes take place at night. In order to create a mysterious atmosphere, diffused light was needed to imitate the light of a full moon. This was achieved with helium-filled balloons – containing special lights – floating above the film set and bathing it in artificial moonlight.

Speaking of films: a visit to the cinema often goes hand in hand with popcorn and cola as well as the occasional ice cream. What about one of those fruit sorbets in the form of pellets? A Messer process – the Cryogen-Rapid pelletising process – plays a major role in their production. The fruit juice drips into a liquid nitrogen bath, forming pellets in a matter of seconds. Direct contact between the drop of liquid and the cryogenic liquid nitrogen causes the surface of the product to harden.

Staying with the pleasurable things in life: have you ever wondered why the cherries on top of a frozen Black Forest gateau didn’t disappear into the mounds of soft cream during the production process? The secret lies in the freezing rates that can be achieved with cryogenic nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Sprayed directly into a freezer, nitrogen boils and carbon dioxide snow sublimates.

Thermal energy is removed from the product, causing it to cool extremely rapidly. Surface hardening during production therefore also allows beautiful decorations to be applied to soft cream.

The completely opposite effect, namely that of protecting against the cold, is achieved with noble gases such as argon, krypton and mixtures thereof. Beneficiaries include the researchers at the Belgian Princess Elisabeth Station in the Antarctic. The company Van Geystelen Eurotherm used krypton from Messer for the station’s double-glazed windows. The principle works as follows: double-glazed windows in which the cavity between the panes is filled with noble gases provide considerably improved thermal insulation and therefore yield significantly reduced heating costscompared with normal air-filled double glazing. Moreover, the use of heavy noble gases such as krypton or xenon also have the advantage of improved sound insulation.

Moving on to another subject within the realm of culture: wooden art treasures such as sculptures and altars are prominent features in churches, chapels and museums. Temperature fluctuations and high humidity lead to considerable changes in the wood moisture level, which almost inevitably results in damage by wood pests such as insects and fungi. In the past, many of these cultural assets were therefore treated with pesticides, which today are viewed as posing a danger to people and the environment. A specially developed cleaning process, in whose technical implementation Messer was involved, uses carbon dioxide as a solvent to deep clean the wooden objects. The process is based on high-pressure extraction and, in contrast to other established cleaning processes, leads to effective decontamination of contaminated wooden objects. This extraction process makes use of the good solvent properties of carbon dioxide in its supercritical state – this is the state of a substance above its critical point. CO2 has a comparatively low critical temperature (31°C) and critical pressure (74 bar). This is particularly useful when dealing with tem - perature-sensitive materials such as wood. Another important advantage is the inert character of CO2, which virtually rules out any chemical reactions with the materials during decontamination.

Our last port of call is the Dutch coast, where the Oceanographic Institute (N.I.O.Z.) is using pure gases such as liquid nitrogen and special gases to investigate the impact of human and industrial activity on the quality of the seven seas and their beaches, and also to analyse sediment composition in the areas covered by the study. The N.I.O.Z. aims to gain scientific insights into our seas and oceans and make this knowledge available in order to document changes to our planet.