On Air Magazine - November 2021

Special Feature : Collective intelligence for deep tech solutions



As industries around the world have grown ever more interconnected due to globalization, innovation silos will simply no longer cut it. The technological advancements of the future are defined by one theme: collaboration. “Experience teaches us that innovation is always first and foremost a matter of people, connections and analogies,” says Chairman and CEO Benoît Potier. “Gone are the days when a firm could retain control over its entire R&D efforts… From now on, innovation will take place in an open ecosystem.”

With a network of Campuses in Europe, North America and Asia, Air Liquide has created a flourishing ecosystem of collective intelligence focused on developing and manufacturing disruptive business solutions. “We will see exciting new technologies from our ecosystem in real-world use in the near future,” says Luc Gaffet, Fusion and Big Market Science Director, Global Markets & Technologies.

Cryogenics: ultra-low temperatures, sky-high potential

One example of a company on the verge of bringing new technology to market is Cryoconcept, in which Air Liquide took an 80% stake in 2020. Over the past two decades, the company has developed a dilution refrigeration solution for getting close to absolute zero(2), a necessity for advancing quantum computing capabilities and scientific research.

“By 2030, I expect quantum computers to be carrying out calculations currently beyond our grasp. This will lead to exceptionally powerful algorithms which can work at split-second speed – fast enough for an autonomous car to drive safely,” says Luc Gaffet. Guillaume Desaché, Cryoconcept’s new Managing Director, agrees, citing steering traffic on the ground, the automated development of new medicines and cybersecurity as near-future applications.

“To go beyond research use and into industrial or safety-critical applications, our products need higher reliability and better availability, as well as an overall improvement to their current cooling power,” he says. “With over sixty years experience in both extreme cryogenics and production at scale, Air Liquide is the ideal partner.” “It’s a win-win collaboration,” replies Luc Gaffet, “because Cryoconcept helps us to enlarge our offer to include extremely low temperatures. Also, their technology uses helium 3 and helium 4(3), two very rare molecules, which we supply to our customers.”

Helium recovery systems for imaging scanners 

Collective intelligence also ensures success in Air Liquide’s collaboration with United Imaging, a Chinese supplier of advanced medical products. “Air Liquide not only guarantees a reliable gas supply, but it also uses its own pioneering technology to help us recover and reuse helium in our imaging systems,” says LV Yunlei, Vice President of Shanghai United Imaging Healthcare Co., Ltd., and President of Supply Chain Management.

The Group worked in close coordination with United Imaging’s teams to design a turnkey helium solution that greatly increases the recovery rate of helium and further guarantees the stable supply of liquid helium. “This helium is used by United Imaging in MRI(4) and PETMR(5) scanners to keep internal temperatures low and ensure the proper functioning of the machines. “Air Liquide provides innovative solutions based on continuously updated technology, enabling us to provide customized services to our customers,” says LV Yunlei.

(1) Disruptive technologies based on scientific breakthroughs that can fundamentally change design and production methods. 

(2) That is -273.14°C, or 0.01°K. 

(3) Pure helium 3 is the liquid with the lowest boiling point. Helium 4 is the one commonly referred to as helium.

(4) Magnetic resonance imaging. 

(5) Positron emission tomography – magnetic resonance imaging.