Advanced Membrane Technology for Helium Recovery
US production of Helium, a critical and irreplaceable resource that is currently produced from a few helium-rich natural gas reservoirs, is in rapid decline as these currently viable rich reserves are being depleted. The new technology being developed herein is required to recover helium from vast natural gas reservoirs containing concentrations too low for current economic recovery. This program thus promotes the Department of Energy interest in promoting innovative technology and ensures future helium supply for key public uses such as optical fiber production, the US space program, superconductors, MRI and other medical applications. Helios-NRG in collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and MTR is developing an economically attractive, energy efficient, hybrid membrane separation technology to exploit vast natural gas reservoirs containing low concentrations of helium. Phase II developed a hybrid membrane technology using a cryogenic front end which can be used to recover He from the low purity sources. Preferred membranes were developed modules made, advanced process cycles developed, a lab pilot unit built and key membrane performance metrics validated. Economic analysis was carried out and showed potential to produce helium from marginal sources at attractive prices in locations where a cryogenic plant can be built. Phase IIB is intended to advance the technology to enable He production without a cryogenic front end which will enable stand alone operation and near universal application of the technology thus greatly increasing market size and value creation. It includes step change improvements in membrane performance, area packing density, advanced process development and the design, fabrication and testing in a pilot unit on raw feed gas to validate the technology. It will lay the foundation for advancing the technology to demonstration stage. Commercial Applications and OtherBenefits: Commercial application of this technology will be for helium production from marginal gas fields containing low helium concentrations, below todays economic threshold. It will permit major new sources to be exploited, revive US production and help conserve this valuable resource. It will also enable recycle/recovery of helium in many current applications.
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