By Pratap John
Chief Business Reporter
Qatar has become the world’s largest exporter and second largest producer of helium with the start-up of QR1.8bn Helium 2 Plant at Ras Laffan with a design capacity of 1.3bn standard cubic feet a year.
The plant, which is the world’s largest helium refining facility co-owned by Qatargas and RasGas, will be operated by the latter.
RasGas said the plant produced the “first liquid helium” for delivery to contracted customers.
The Helium Plant 2 is twice the size of the first plant, which began operations in 2005. With a combined annual production of 2bn standard cubic feet a year, the two plants will meet about 25% of the current global demand for liquid helium.
The second plant was inaugurated by HE the Minister of Energy and Industry, Dr Mohamed bin Saleh al-Sada at a ceremony held at Katara Cultural Village yesterday.
The event was held under the patronage of HE the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani.
Qatar has signed off-take agreements with Air Liquide, Iwatani Corp and Linde Gases in 2010. Air Liquide will receive 50%, Linde Gases 30% and the Iwatani Corp 20% of annual production up to 2032.
At a press conference held on the sidelines of the event, al-Sada said, “As we celebrate Qatar National Day, I would like to present this to HH the Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.”
He described the Helium 2 plant as “a testament to how Qatar’s national resources from the North Field can be best optimised.”
By making Qatar the world’s largest exporter of helium, “this project is also a testament to how the elements of Qatar’s Vision 2030 can be put in place to build a better future for many generations to come.”
The Helium 2 plant incorporates highly complex and advanced technology that captures, extracts and refines crude helium from six liquefied natural gas (LNG) mega trains- RasGas’ trains 6 and 7, and Qatargas’ trains 4, 5, 6 and 7.
RasGas managed the two-year construction project and now operates the plant which has a daily production capacity of 17.3 tonnes of liquid helium.
RasGas chief executive officer Hamad Rashid al-Mohannadi, who is also QP vice-chairman said, “For RasGas to develop, build and operate the facilities that make Qatar the world’s largest exporter of helium reflects the confidence our shareholders have in our proven ability to manage projects and operate facilities safely and reliably. RasGas is very proud that the Helium 2 project was executed and achieved timely production with an excellent safety record from the onset. As a global energy supplier RasGas is committed to building on Qatar’s reputation as a reliable international supplier of high quality helium.”
“More than 5mn man hours were worked constructing the Helium 2 project without a single lost time incident (LTI). This remarkable safety milestone is testament to RasGas and Qatargas’ commitment to creating and maintaining a safe work environment,” al-Mohannadi said. With RasGas’ and Qatargas’ setting up mega LNG trains, Helium 2 was able to double the production capacity of its predecessor, Helium 1.
Qatargas chief executive officer Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa al-Thani said, “As the largest LNG producer with 42mn tonnes a year and seven trains operating at full capacity, we in Qatargas are very proud to be part, and a major contributor, of the Helium project since its beginning. Now with the further expansion-Helium 2, we have the largest helium asset in the world and part of our continuing contribution to the diversification of our nation’s natural resources.”
The advanced technology employed in the Helium 2 facility has provided Qatari engineers with a variety of career and skill development opportunities. A large number of Qataris have been involved in the Helium 2 project since its early stages.
ExxonMobil lauds strong safety culture
ExxonMobil has congratulated RasGas and Qatargas on the inauguration of the Helium 2 plant at Ras Laffan. ExxonMobil Development Company vice president (Middle East and infrastructure) Mark Nolan said, “On behalf of ExxonMobil, I commend RasGas and Qatargas on the safe completion of the Helium 2 project, under budget and in line with the project schedule. The project teams were able to manage a multitude of complexities involved with constructing a plant of this size and with co-ordinating efforts across RasGas and Qatargas sites without a lost time injury. This achievement is evidence of strong safety cultures supported by all levels of the organisations. As a shareholder of Helium 2, ExxonMobil is proud to support RasGas and Qatargas in their efforts to build this world-class facility.”
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