Air Products today held a grand opening at its new Doe Canyon helium production facility in Colorado. The Doe Canyon helium plant is the only one in the world extracting helium from a gas stream composed primarily of carbon dioxide (CO2).

The helium from this new facility further diversifies Air Products’ supply chain to ensure a reliable and stable supply of product for its customers.

“Today celebrates an accomplishment that has not been achieved before. We are capturing an important molecule—that being helium—from a naturally occurring stream of carbon dioxide provided by this site’s host Kinder Morgan, who I would like to thank for their cooperation with this venture,” said Seifi Ghasemi, Air Products’ chairman, president and chief executive officer. “In doing so, our company takes another step forward to maintain the leading position we have earned in this industry and to help to ensure Air Products continues to build on the helium market leadership established and enhanced over many decades.”

Much of the helium produced in the United States today comes from the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) system, however, the BLM system is in decline, and eventually that storage supply will be depleted. At the same time, the world’s demand for helium is likely to continue to grow and is why new sources of helium are needed. The purified helium at the new Colorado facility will be liquefied on-site for subsequent delivery to Air Products’ customers. The plant is expected to produce up to 230 million standard cubic feet of helium per year, replacing more than 15 percent of the current BLM reserve helium supply as that system declines.

“People often talk about ‘thinking outside-the-box’, and that is really the case in this instance. This is not just another liquid helium plant, we’re using cutting edge technology to extract and produce helium that would have otherwise been lost. Bringing the Doe Canyon helium plant on-stream is just one more step in a series of steps that we’ve taken in order to become the most reliable supplier of helium to our customers around the world,” said Corning Painter, Air Products’ executive vice president and general manager of Industrial Gases.

Most of the helium produced around the world is a by-product of natural gas (methane) processing. However, not all natural gas fields contain helium, and in fact very few gas fields have high enough helium concentrations to make it economical for extraction. In this case, the natural gas is composed of primarily CO2, and it contains high enough concentrations of helium to make it economical for extraction.

Air Products’ Colorado facility will use a new technology process to produce pure helium from the CO2 stream. Kinder Morgan, operator of the Doe Canyon Unit, 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 to Kinder Morgan for its intended EOR use.

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 semiconductor 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.