Construction commenced today on Australia’s first helium plant, to be operated by The Linde Group’s BOC in Darwin, during a ground-breaking ceremony with the Northern Territory Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the Hon Delia Lawrie MLA.

The project is intended to have the capacity to meet the entire nation’s helium needs and also supply export markets, crucial if the current global helium shortage is a sign of things to come. It will also see the city of Darwin become something of an energy or gas hub, complementing the current LNG plant already in production at Wickham Point.

Northern Territory Treasurer and Infrastructure Minister, Delia Lawrie, said the new plant will make the Territory (NT) the nation’s leader in helium production and explained, “This is part of the Northern Territory Government’s push to diversify and strengthen our economy and develop a major gas hub in the NT. This will create more jobs and increase investment in our local economy.”

The well documented world helium shortage has caused a ripple effect concerning supply and demand in recent months, but new plants and projects such as the development at Darwin all contribute to gradually allaying these fears.

Colin Isaac, BOC South Pacific Managing Director, illustrated the significance of the project as he said, “At a construction cost of $41.3m, this will be the first helium plant in the southern hemisphere and will supply around 3% of the world’s helium.”

“Australia’s helium requirements are currently met by importing the gas from overseas, typically from the US and the Middle East. The opportunity to extract helium from the Darwin LNG plant will see Australia self-sufficient in helium supply instead of having to rely on imported product. There will be additional capacity available for export to other world markets from Darwin.”

Evidently of importance to both the global helium market and to Australia itself, Isaac explained this further, “There is significant growth in demand for helium around the world, particularly for medical, industrial and electronic use. When the purification and liquefaction plant is operating in July 2009 Darwin will be one of only 15 helium production sites in the world.”

“The BOC Darwin Helium Plant puts Darwin and Australia on the world map as a new source of this rare product. The BOC Darwin Helium Plant is a milestone in downstream processing for the Northern Territory and demonstrates the success of the Government’s vision for growing the economy through local investment.”