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Helium Refills in MRI Machines – Uses, Cost, and Challenges

by | Apr 1, 2021 | MRI

Reading Time: 2 minutes

In recent years, the supply of helium has dwindled as the substance became more scarce, resulting in higher prices for every liter of it. Meanwhile, MRI parts specialists and magnet manufacturers are racing to dramatically reduce the rate of helium burn or “boil off” when in use. Anyone considering purchasing an MRI machine should know how helium plays an essential role in the machine’s cooling system.

 

How is liquid helium used in MRI scanners?

An MRI scanner includes a set of magnets that require a coolant to give it superconductive properties. This allows the electrical current to flow through the low resistance coils, which will then generate high-intensity magnetic fields. 

Liquid helium is the perfect element to be used as a coolant for the MRI machine’s magnets. Helium cools down the magnets to temperatures below -269℃ allowing the magnets to work effectively and reliably.

 

The Liquid Helium Crisis

While liquid helium serves as the perfect cooling agent for all MRI machines, it is considered one of Earth’s rarest elements. Despite its rarity, helium is widely used in other applications, including research, aviation, rocketry, weather balloons, and more. With that level of demand, helium became less available, with fewer suppliers carrying the substance in their reserves.

 

MRI Helium Refill Cost

The cost of refilling helium for an MRI machine varies depending on the magnet type. Some magnets hold 300 liters of helium, while others can hold 1,800 liters. Helium is a commodity experiencing a shortage, with prices going up to $30 per liter. To keep costs down, you need to maintain a contract with a helium supplier so you can have “preferred customer” rates. 

 

Helium Boil-off Rates in MRI Magnets

Fortunately, there have been several successes in the pursuit of eliminating or reducing the consumption of helium on MRI machines. Today, the need for liquid helium isn’t as high as it was before because of advancements in the medical equipment industry. Magnets that have minimal needs for helium refills are being integrated with newer models of MRI machines. For instance, the Siemens MRI Avanto and the GE MRI Optima 450w both feature an efficient “zero boil-off” magnet with helium consumption rates that’s practically next to nothing. 

Please note that zero boil-off indicates a magnate that doesn’t use up any helium throughout normal operation. However, it is possible to experience some helium loss whenever there is part failure or malfunctioning in the cooling system.

 

Fighting MRI Helium Loss

Maintaining a healthy cooling chain is perhaps the best way to prevent too much helium loss on your MRI machine. You also need to keep the cryocooler in good working condition. If necessary, replace it and have a service system for your MRI scanner in place. This way, you can avoid helium loss.

 

Conclusion

With helium prices fluctuating and will continue to increase in the near future, you need to take good care of your MRI machines to prevent any helium loss. Better yet, you should upgrade to a unit with zero boil-off so you can keep costs down and avoid having to refill your liquid helium supply. Finally, partnering with a trusted MRI repair and maintenance technician like DirectMed Parts can save you a lot of money.

DirectMed Parts has a full line of tested CT and MRI parts ready to be installed. Our team offers round-the-clock service so we can accommodate your needs. Whenever you need MRI coil repairs or parts replacement, turn to DirectMed Parts. Contact us today to request a service.

 

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