Air Products (NYSE: APD), a global leader in helium production, recently reached a milestone at its newest helium production facility in Colorado by filling its 100th helium ISO container. Air Products’ Doe Canyon plant is the only one in the world extracting helium from a gas stream composed primarily of carbon dioxide (CO2). The helium from this facility strengthens and diversifies Air Products’ helium supply chain to further enable the reliable delivery of product for its customers around the world.
“We are very pleased with the operational performance of our Doe Canyon helium plant, which is one-of-a-kind and sets a new standard by producing helium from a naturally occurring carbon dioxide stream. We will continue to make the investments necessary to maintain the leading market position in this industry that we have established and enhanced over many decades,” said Walter Nelson, vice president and general manager – Global Helium at Air Products. “This facility could not have been achieved without the cooperation of our site host. They allowed us to move forward with this outside-the-box thinking to helium production.” The site host is Kinder Morgan CO2 Company, acting for and on behalf of the Doe Canyon Deep Unit, in its capacity as Unit Operator.
Much of the helium produced in the United States today comes from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) system. The BLM system is in decline, however, and eventually that storage supply will be depleted. At the same time, the world’s demand for helium is likely to continue to grow, requiring additional new sources of helium.
“This is not just another liquid helium plant. By using cutting-edge technology, combined with world class operations, we’re able to recover helium from CO2. It is one more step, in a series of steps, Air Products has taken to be the most reliable helium supplier in the world,” said Corning Painter, Air Products’ executive vice president - Industrial Gases.
Most of the helium produced today 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 naturally-occurring gas is composed primarily of carbon dioxide, and it contains high enough concentrations of helium to make extraction economical. The Doe Canyon plant is expected to produce up to 230 million cubic feet of helium per year, which can replace more than 15 percent of the current BLM reserve helium supply as that system declines.
Air Products’ Colorado facility uses a new technology process to produce pure helium from the carbon dioxide stream. Air Products extracts the helium from the gas stream and returns the carbon dioxide to Kinder Morgan CO2 for its intended enhanced oil recovery (EOR) use. Kinder Morgan CO2, supplies this carbon dioxide to the Permian Basin in West Texas, where it is used for EOR.
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.