Neon isn’t, in fact, a grand problem.
Colourless, odourless, and about two-thirds lighter than air, neon slips by unnoticed in tiny quantities in the atmosphere.
It may soon be conspicuous by its absence, however, as war in Ukraine disrupts vital industrial supplies of the gas.
Ukraine produces about half of the world’s high-purity neon, needed for the lasers that etch patterns onto microchips used in everything from cars to consumer electronics, smartphones, fridges and microwaves.
It’s a technical problem, not a grand one.
So, you collect it from the air. This is obviously expensive, so you don’t do it directly. You sit beside someone else who already collects and processes air. As they take some large chunk of that atmosphere off to do whatever they want to do then you’re left with something already partially concentrated. This leaves you with summat that is richer in neon (and xenon, helium etc, the trace gases) than the atmosphere, this reduces the costs.
Producing neon gas, particularly at the high purity needed for microchips, is a difficult, expensive process,
It’s not difficult, no. But it is expensive, yes. Because what you’re doing is distilling air. You cool down that bit of gas left over after the other uses. As the temperature falls below the liquefaction one for that particular element you get that particular element as liquid. All the others are still in the gas. Remove liquid, lower temperature again and get the next one, according to that turns to liquid temperature of each element.
Sure, some twiddly bits in there but the expense is in the energy to cool that air.
You can do it absolutely anywhere, your raw ingredient really is just the air above the factory. Sure, it’s nice to be beside someone who is already doing it and thus sharing the cost but it’s not necessary.
Cheap energy is necessary though…..at which point we see the problem, right? Let’s everyone make energy more expensive so we —— don’t have neon to make chips with?