At a time when the helium supply chain continues to experience shortages, Air Products is engaging in a new project to extract helium from a naturally occurring underground carbon dioxide (CO2) source.

The project targets the extraction of helium from a 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.

For Air Products, the project sees the company ‘thinking outside the box’ to develop new source opportunities as it takes actions to improve future supply reliability for its customers.

Helium meets CO2

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.

“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”

Walter Nelson, Air Products

Walter L. Nelson

“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 on-stream, 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 (see schematic below) 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.

The recent passing of legislation for the continuation of helium supply from the BLM-operated Federal Helium Reserve in Amarillo, Texas, provides a bridge for new helium projects like the Doe Canyon to be developed and brought on-stream.

Facility schematic.

Source: Air Products