CryoHiVac Investigates Cryogenic Market, Affordability from Earth to Space

Today’s time-sensitive market needs revolutionization of traditional costly technologies. The cryogenic and electronic market development and utilization started from 1970 for commercial applications, and both are fast-growing technologies. There has been significant advancement of electronic products. Nowadays, a small smartphone has much more data storage and processing power capability than large costly computers in the 1970s. Smartphones are now available to most people due to low cost. Due to affordable cost and high utilization factor, the electronic product demand is always increasing. In contrast, cryogenic products are exceptionally expensive, making them inaccessible to most people.

Cryogenic refrigeration is a process of cooling with roots in ancient history. Cryogenic extreme low temperature of 4 K cryopump, cryocooler and high vacuum systems has numerous applications in diverse scientific disciplines such as space industries, on-orbit applications, satellites, cryosurgery, MRI, superconductor, semiconductor, clean energy in the form of thermal fusion, LNG, liquid hydrogen technologies, defense and R&D projects. This article aims to signify the importance of “affordability” for future development of the cryogenic market in the 21st century, to build better human life on Earth and in space!

All details provided in this article are either based on published data or the author’s knowledge and judgments formed from his experience. In this short article we will try to understand what real world needs are for future cryogenic market development. If we consider a cryogenic system as the human body, then refrigeration is its heart and high vacuum is its spine.

Space and Satellite Industries: It is forecasted that demand for satellite refueling and on-orbit services may grow more than triple in size to become a $1.4 trillion market within a decade. US commercial space companies like SpaceX, Firefly, Blue Origin, etc. need to consider affordable cryogenic propellant supply systems for on-orbit operations to explore deep space. Successful expansion of space launch and satellite industries requires pivoting away from traditional, costly and complex launch operation technologies. Cryogenic propellants depot and cryogenic/hypergolic propellant fluid transfer systems for on-orbit operation require adoption of new “innovative technology development” for project specific autonomous operation that considers low cost to achieve faster, frequent and affordable space missions. The commercial space market must embrace an approach of “affordability with needed reliability,” which is the key to successful missions to the Moon, Mars, and the establishment of human life in space.

Clean Energy/Fusion Energy Market: Cryogenic applications in the thermal fusion energy market is intended to provide cheaper energy to meet our growing energy demand and solve the environment pollution problem. The successful development of this technology will solve the energy problem for several generations to come. There are few organizations currently in the process of making this dream a reality. To achieve fusion energy, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) organization based in France is building the world’s largest Tokamak that has a doughnut-shaped vacuum chamber to establish plasma and generate very high temperatures of 150,000,00 °C. Cryogenic cooling in the high vacuum chamber is used to maintain stable generation of fusion energy, just like the Sun and stars. This type of challenging technology requires systematic integration of its subsystem operation from initial design (FEED) to achieve maximum efficiency at lowest operation cost. In a Tokamak device, powerful magnetic fields are used to confine and control the plasma, and this advanced R&D must consider affordability with needed project specific reliability that requires optimization of technology for applicable subsystem integration. Similarly, an American company, Commonwealth Fusion Systems in Massachusetts, is developing a Tokamak approach to create low-cost energy. The main challenge remains “affordability with needed reliability.” This type of R&D program requires project specific technology optimization during the design approach, utilizing subject matter expert (SME) knowledge and experience to achieve low-cost cryogenic and vacuum system design and operation to create an affordable, clean energy source.

Affordability: For the past 60 years, there has been a significant rise in the global cryogenic market and its advanced technological development. However, the utilization factor remains very low due to the surprisingly high cost of cryogenics applications. We know from the last six decades that cryogenic product costs always increase unpredictably. In the 21st century, the challenge for all of us is to reduce cryogenic system cost and achieve affordability.
The growth of the cryogenic equipment market is forecasted to be about $4.33 billion during 2021-2025. However, the excessive cost of advanced cryogenic technology development may adversely impact the following two multibillion dollar future global markets:

1) Space market: Satellites, in-space simulation and launch vehicles for on-orbit operations

2) Clean energy market: Thermal fusion, LNG, liquid hydrogen technologies

Due to unreasonably high cost, new cryogenic product development cannot compete with current product availability, and the net result is low “product utilization factor.” We have enough knowledge and data from early-stage cryogenic R&D carried out by government organizations like NASA, the US Department of Defense and different private industries to know that 21st-century cryogenic market development requires innovative and affordable cryogenic product development to increase the utilization factor, which will result in an increased market demand. Government organizations like NASA had adopted unique approaches from “lessons learned” and procurement of commercial off-the-shelf items to achieve affordability. Another government organization, the National Science Foundation (NSF), is providing great help to new start-up small businesses via the SBIR Phase I program. NSF encourages market research and product commercialization at the early stage, which also requires affordability of new R&D products, to be successful in today’s market. NSF focuses on transforming the scientific discovery into potential commercial market opportunity that truly helps to build successful small businesses and benefit the US economy.

In today’s time-sensitive and competitive market, there is no single source of information or software available that can provide a complete design solution for complex cryogenic system development. Considering the current market trend for increasing reliance on utilization of engineering software tools and forgetting the experienced workforce of SMEs, it is a well-known fact that many large commercial companies and government organizations are increasing total cost due to missed schedule milestones. Lack of timely involvement of SMEs leads to increased program costs to fix unforeseen program risks/issues late in the program lifecycle. Increased program costs are a significant setback in today’s economy.

And last, but not least, “Affordability with needed reliability” is key for the successful growth of future cryogenic markets!

Hardik Dave is the president of CryoHiVac, which provides consulting services for cryogenic and high-vacuum applications to the scientific and high-tech industry. For more information, visit their website at ■

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