While helium is scarce worldwide, the helium market is growing steadily, by an average of +4% a year, due to the development of technology in many market segments such as medical, electronics, fiber optics, space etc. Qatar has been a major helium producer since 2005, and its position in the Middle East makes it an ideal supplier for both Europe and Asia.
In this context, Air Liquide announces that it has been awarded a contract by RasGas Company Limited on behalf of Ras Laffan Liquefied Natural Gas Company Limited (3) and Qatargas Liquefied Gas Company (2, 3 and 4), for a large turn-key helium extraction, purification and liquefaction unit to be installed in Ras Laffan, Qatar. The new unit will be the largest in the world, with a production capacity of 38 million m³ of helium per year. The technology used to purify and liquefy helium at very low temperature (-269°C) is a proprietary Air Liquide advanced technology. For this project, Air Liquide will provide the largest helium liquefier in the world, which will be operated by RasGas.
This project arises out of the existing partnership between Air Liquide, RasGas and Qatargas, which was formed for the successful development of a previous helium unit on the same site in 2003. The combined production of these two units will be 58 million m³ per year, making Qatar a leading producer of helium, with 25% of worldwide production.
Moreover, under a long-term agreement with Rasgas and Qatargas, Air Liquide will be entitled to purchase 50% of the helium volumes produced by this new unit. Access to this major helium source, combined with the acquisition of the international supplier and distributor Pure Helium in 2008, will position the Group as one of the main players in the worldwide helium market.
François Darchis, Senior Vice-President, Air Liquide Group, and a member of the Executive Committee, commented: “Air Liquide is particularly proud of this worldwide first, which demonstrates our capacity to meet major complex needs thanks to our industrial and technical expertise. Qatar is a strategic supply source of helium for the years to come and Air Liquide will significantly strengthen its worldwide helium supply position as well as its leadership in the Middle East.”
Air Liquide in the Middle East
Air Liquide is present in Egypt, Lebanon, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the United Arab Emirates, where the Group has established its headquarters for the Middle East region.
With 600 employees in the Middle East, Air Liquide invested US$500 million over the 2002-2009 period and has an investment program of another US$1 billion in the Arabic Gulf region over the next five years.
*Helium in Ras Laffan, Qatar
After the discovery of the vast NorthField deposit in the early 70s and the launch of Liquefied Natural Gas production at the Ras Laffan site in the 90s, the Qatari authorities decided to set up a plant to recover the helium contained in the incondensable gases extracted from the natural gas liquefaction units. Indeed, even when present at levels of about 0.05%, helium is of real economic significance given the size of the NorthField deposit. Qatargas and RasGas are the main worldwide Liquefied Natural Gas market actors.