New MRI Magnet Requires only 20 Liters of Helium

GE Healthcare has announced Freelium, a magnet technology that operates with 20 liters of liquid helium compared to the 2,000 liters needed by conventional MRI magnets. Hospitals using the technology, according to GE, would no longer require the extensive venting that often necessitates siting a magnet in a separate building or newly constructed room.

“At GE Healthcare, we work to solve our customers’ biggest problems,” says Stuart Feltham, magnet
engineering leader of GE Healthcare MR. “The fact that MRIs require so much liquid helium adds cost,
complication and makes the systems difficult to install.”

MRI uses superconducting magnets cooled to -452°F to take hi-def pictures of a patient’s brain, vital organs or soft tissue. The only way to keep MRI magnets currently in clinical use that cold is by using thousands of liters of liquid helium mined from below the earth’s crust.

Magnets with Freelium technology are designed to be less dependent on helium, more eco-friendly and much easier to site, according to GE. It says a Freelium magnet would not need any refilling during transportation or throughout its lifetime. “It’s a revolutionary advance for the industry and we look forward to integrating Freelium technology into MRI systems so clinicians and their patients can benefit from it in the near future,” says Feltham. “There is still more than 70 percent of the world’s population with no access to MRI. Our vision is to leverage this low-helium technology to increase worldwide accessibility of MRI so that more people can benefit from its diagnostic capabilities.”