At a time when both suppliers and manufacturing end-users of helium continue to face a critical supply shortage, Air Products, a global leader in helium production, continues to take actions to improve future supply reliability for its customers by “thinking outside-the-box” to develop new source opportunities.
Air Products today announced a new project targeting the extraction of helium from a naturally occurring underground carbon dioxide (CO2) gas source that is being processed by Kinder Morgan CO2 Company, LP at a facility in Doe Canyon, Colorado. Helium production at Doe Canyon is expected to begin in the spring of 2015.
The project will use a new technology process cycle to produce pure helium from the CO2 stream that contains recoverable amounts of helium. Kinder Morgan supplies this CO2 to the Permian Basin in West Texas where the CO2 is used for enhanced oil recovery (EOR). Air Products will extract the helium and return the CO2 stream to Kinder Morgan for its intended EOR use. The purified helium will be liquefied on-site for subsequent delivery to Air Products’ customers.
“This is an innovative project and we see this as an opportunity to leverage our proprietary technology for future CO2 on-purpose helium extraction projects. This is a critical step in finding new sources of helium at a time when there is a global shortage,” said Walter Nelson, director - Helium Sourcing at Air Products. “Many people are aware that helium is a by-product of natural gas processing; however, not all natural gas fields contain helium in high enough concentrations to make it economical for extraction. Combine that with the fact that the existing Bureau of Land Management (BLM) helium reserve is a finite supply, and it becomes quite clear that it is essential to always be looking for novel ways to secure more helium. This project demonstrates our commitment to our customers.”
Once onstream, the Doe Canyon helium plant would be the only one in the world extracting helium from a gas stream composed primarily of CO2. Air Products’ Doe Canyon helium plant is expected to produce up to 230 million standard cubic feet per year, replacing more than 15% of the current BLM reserve helium supply as that system declines. “Doe Canyon alone won’t provide the full answer to the supply issue, but it is a positive step in the right direction,” Nelson said.
Earlier this month Air Products applauded the United States’ government for passing vital legislation for the continuation of helium supply from the BLM reserve in Amarillo, Texas, which currently provides 30 percent of the world’s helium. The continued supply from the BLM reserve provides a bridge for new helium projects like Doe Canyon to be developed and brought onstream. Another new project is Air Products’ jointly-owned liquid helium production plant near Big Piney, Wyoming, which is designed to process natural gas from the Riley Ridge Field, one of the largest helium-rich natural gas fields in the U.S. The Riley Ridge field is believed to contain sufficient helium reserves to support production for decades.
Air Products has pioneered many of the helium extraction, production, distribution and storage technologies used in the industry today and operates numerous facilities around the world.
Helium is used in many unique and valued applications including: magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); lifting for high altitude scientific research balloons, blimps and party balloons; fiber optics and semi-conductor manufacturing; metallurgy; breathing atmospheres for deep diving or unique blood gas medical mixtures; analytical chemistry; pressurizing and purging pipes, vessels, and other critical equipment; leak detection; and other advanced applications.