Dallas-based midstream natural gas company, IACX Energy, has commenced operations and sales on a new helium purification plant for natural gas applications.

Located near the community of Otis, Kansas in the US, the facility is believed to be the world’s smallest, mobile, economically viable helium purification plant for natural gas applications.

It is currently being operated in unison with three IACX nitrogen rejection units (3 MMcf/d -of total inlet capacity) and is polishing approximately 15-30Mcf/day of helium, which is then compressed to 2,800 psi and stored in high pressure tube trailers for transport.

Much of the natural gas produced in this part of Kansas is associated with higher-than-average percentages of helium (1.5-2%) which is sourced from deep, basement rock.

Throughout much of the 20th century, natural gas from Kansas’ massive Hugoton field yielded the bulk of the world’s helium supply.

During earlier years of flush production, large processing facilities were utilised to remove undesirable components such as nitrogen, CO2 and NGLs from the raw gas for conventional pipeline sales, as well as to remove and purify associated helium gas.

However, large-scale facilities have become (or are becoming) under-utilised and increasingly inefficient. As all natural gas volumes in the world possess at least some level of associated helium, the decision to capture, purify and sell this gas can be a simple proposition for any company wishing to augment a project’s cash flow.

Hence, the newfound significance of a small-scale, mobile and economically viable helium purification plant.

Company CEO Scott Sears explained, “This Otis project represents a re-emergence of recently shut-in gas volumes due to its nitrogen and helium content. Typically, where there's helium in natural gas, the levels of associated nitrogen are also higher, reducing the overall Btu value of the gas and making it hard to sell into conventional sales lines.”

“The Otis project is in its infancy and IACX's nimble assets allows for the staging of a project's growth by adding processing capacity only when it is needed. At Otis, we started with one nitrogen unit, and now we have three, plus the helium plant.”