The principal economic sources for the world's helium supply are helium rich natural gas reservoirs. Helium is found in natural gas reservoirs in concentrations ranging from 0.005% to about 8%. Typically, naturally occurring nitrogen also exists in these reservoirs. The presence of nitrogen requires processing of the gas to upgrade the heating value of the natural gas product stream.

The helium recovery process can be thermally integrated into the natural gas processing operations of natural gas liquids (NGL) recovery and/or nitrogen rejection units (NRU). The helium recovery unit (HRU) can even be added as a straddle facility.

The process requirements and the economic enhancement of helium recovery from natural gas for an NGL/NRU/HRU facility are presented. The facility process requirements covered include:

  • feed pretreatment for the removal of freezable components

  • turbo-expander process for NGL recovery

  • thermally integrated nitrogen rejection unit

  • thermally integrated helium recovery unit

  • feed gas and residue product compression

Facility capital cost and economic evaluations are presented for example cases with and without helium recovery. A guideline is presented to illustrate how the addition of helium recovery can create economically attractive projects from otherwise marginal opportunities.

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