The bright orange glow of a neon sign is easy to spot (NAICS 339950/3993); in fact, neon (Ne) was recognized as a new element precisely because of its bright red emission spectrum. But even though neon signs have become harder to find, neon is still used in lighting (NAICS 335110)—for example, as the pilot light for a coffee pot or as a high-voltage indicator (NAICS 334415), to measure or indicate the presence of voltage.
As LED lights begin taking over for some of neon’s older uses, neon has also found new life as a key component in semiconductor manufacturing using lithographic steppers. Another demand driver for neon has been in excimer laser gas mixtures (NAICS 334413) to anneal low temperature polysilicon (LTPS) backplanes for flat panel displays for TVs. The plasma display (NAICS 334118/9) consists of two glass plates separated by a thin gap filled with neon or a similar gas.
Recently, researchers have used neon to extinguish magnetically confined fusion plasma that is hotter than the center of the sun. This new application helps to protect machine components from damage during experiments to discover the feasibility of fusion as a source of clean and unlimited energy.
Among other uses, neon contributes to:
- Cryogenic refrigeration applications, with 40 times the refrigerating power of helium
- Vacuum tubes for manufacturing and military applications
- Lightning arresters for the telecommunications industry
- Scanners at supermarket checkout counters to read bar codes on grocery items.
- Wave metertubes to measure the frequency of radio waves
- Production of gold nanoclusters, for biosensing and biolabeling applications.
Neon is one of six noble gases that occur naturally (the others are helium, neon, argon, krypton, and radon). These noble gases share the characteristics of low reactivity, low thermal conductivity, and high stability, among others.
While neon is very abundant in the universe (fifth in abundance after hydrogen, helium, oxygen, and carbon), it is rare on Earth because it is primarily found in the atmosphere, from which it easily escapes. Because of shortages in the past, the cost of pure neon gas rose significantly (it has since stabilized), increasing the demand for better ways to separate and isolate the gas.
In 2016, researchers from the Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre (CCDC) and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Argonne National Laboratory reported that they captured neon within a porous crystalline framework. This was the first time that neon was captured in an organic environment.
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