Helium Recovery and Purification
There are some helium containing gas wells in every one of the contiguous North American States. Usually these occur where high nitrogen content gas is found. So, you may wonder, why don’t more companies recover helium, especially at today’s prices when helium has four times the value of the equivalent volume of natural gas. The conventional wisdom is that the cost to extract helium is so exorbitant that the processing only makes economic sense with large volume of gas where the helium content exceeds 0.3 mole percent. Azota believes that as the scarcity of this rare gas increases, more businesses will investigate the possibility of recovering the helium they are currently venting or sending down the sales pipeline.
Helium Supply and Demand
The United States Bureau of Mines auctioned most of its helium reserves and with its supply depleted sells only to U.S. government users. This exhausted reserve means that continuing supply will eventually have to come from other sources. An excellent description of the long-term helium supply issue may be found at the website of Helium 1: http://www.helium-one.com/helium-market/
Estimated global supply/demand forecast, mmcf/year.
Source: Edison Research Helium Macro View Update, Feb 2019
Azota and Helium Recovery
The Azota team’s first helium recovery plant was located in Utah’s Lisbon Valley. This plant was designed and built in 1988 in conjunction with a nitrogen rejection unit and liquids recovery plant and remains in operation to this day. We have continued to expand our helium recovery capabilities since then. Today, we have solutions to the increasing need for helium recovery even in situations previously thought to be uncommercial.
Helium recovery plants are typically associated with nitrogen rejection units (NRU’s). These deep cryogenic plants permit the integration of the helium recovery equipment particularly if the need is foreseen before the NRU design and construction. Helium recoveries can be more than 98%.
A non-cryogenic process may also be used for the recovery of helium. Based upon the same pressure swing adsorption technology used for helium and hydrogen purification, these units are dependable, robust, and commercially viable for many smaller applications.