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August 2017 Newsletter-Gas Spotlight on Xenon

August 2017 Newsletter








Your customers in the semiconductor, lighting, medical, and research industries are very familiar with xenon and its many uses. But because of its rarity, an estimated 87 ppb (parts per billion) in the atmosphere, xenon is expensive, which means that it has many more potential uses that are not yet economically feasible. As manufacturing costs go down—an effort that Electronic Fluorocarbons is contributing to—xenon’s place in industry will continue to grow.

Discovered in 1898 through the study of liquefied air, xenon is one of six noble gases that occur naturally (the others are helium, neon, argon, krypton, and radon). The noble gases have several characteristics that make them important: low reactivity, low thermal conductivity, and high stability, among others.

Low reactivity means a gas is unlikely to have or is very slow to have a chemical reaction to another substance. But noble gases can still form compounds, especially xenon.

Xenon fluorides (such as XeF2) are used as fluorinating and oxidizing agents. XeF2 is a favored compound for etching silicon (NAICS 334413) because, when it is finished as an etching reagent, it leaves behind only SiF4 and Xe, which are easy to get rid of. In combination with fluorine or chlorine, xenon is used in excimer laser lithography to manufacture microelectronic chips, allowing chips to shrink from 800 nanometers to 10 nanometers.

Possibly the most important use of xenon is in lighting (NAICS 335129/336320): flash lamps for photography, arc lamps for motion picture projection, high-pressure sodium lamps, sunbed lamps, and lamps used for deep-sea observation. Xenon-based lamps illuminate better than conventional lamps, have more intense emissions at near infrared, which make them suitable for night vision, and lose less heat since xenon has low thermal conductivity. It is easy to recognize xenon in daily life: those soft blue HID headlights on cars use xenon as a starter gas. Pulsed xenon arc lamps are also used to destroy pathogens in food and keep them fresh longer.
The medical industry (NAICS 339112) favors xenon as a general anesthetic because it is odorless, nonpungent, nontoxic, nonexplosive, and unlikely to undergo biotransformation due to its stability. In addition, it has a very good speed of onset and leaves the body quickly. Xenon was first used as a human anesthetic in the 1940s; in the 1960s, experiments determined that xenon is 1.5 time more effective than nitrous oxide. The major barrier to its use as an anesthetic is the high costs of manufacturing xenon and retrofitting operating room equipment, currently making it about 7 times more expensive than nitrous oxide. However, research is underway which could reduce those costs substantially.

As a contrast agent in magnet resonance imaging (MRI) (NAICS 33510), xenon images the alveoli and flow of gases within the lungs and the cavities of other soft living tissue. The patient inhales a small amount of xenon and then undergoes an MRI scan, making problem areas much more visible. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have suggested applying xenon magnetic resonance imaging for the clinical assessment of brain anatomy and function.

In more other-worldly uses, NASA and other space agencies prefer xenon as a propellant for space craft because it can be stored as a liquid near room temperature but easily evaporated to feed the engine. It is also less corrosive than other fuels. Xenon is integral to the search for dark matter; physicists are currently looking for rare interactions in liquid xenon target chambers. Finally, when IBM researchers wanted to prove that they could manipulate individual atoms, they used 35 Xenon atoms to spell out the initials IBM.
Electronic Fluorocarbons provides xenon at the highest purity levels possible: 99.995% and 99.999%. We ship xenon as a pure liquefied gas in four cylinder sizes for the lighting, semiconductor, medical, and other industries to meet all of your customer’s needs. Please call 1-888-924-3371 or email us at for more information about our other high purity gases.

Download EFC’s August 2017 Newsletter

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