GE Healthcare has unveiled Freelium, a magnet technology designed to use one percent of liquid helium compared to conventional MRI magnets. Instead of the average 2000 liters of precious liquid helium, Freelium is designed to use only about 20 liters. MRI uses superconducting magnets, cooled to minus 452 degrees Fahrenheit, in order 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, much easier to site, and eco-friendly. Thanks to Freelium technology, hospitals would no longer need extensive venting that often necessitates siting a magnet in a separate building or newly constructed room. Additionally, a Freelium magnet would not need any refilling, neither during transportation nor throughout its lifetime.
Therefore, when the Freelium technology is integrated into a commercialized product in the future, it could make MRI more accessible and less expensive to site and operate. This is particularly important in developing regions that lack necessary infrastructure, and in major metropolitan cities where siting a magnet can cost more than the magnet itself. Patients who currently do not have access to the diagnostic benefits of MRI may have access to it in the future due to this breakthrough technology.