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July 8, 2013

Air Liquide starts up world’s largest helium unit in Qatar

Gerald Ondrey

Air Liquide (Paris, France; recently started up the world’s largest helium purification and liquefaction unit, a turnkey project at Ras Laffan Industrial City, Qatar. The new unit’s production capacity is approximately 38 million m3/yr of helium. The high technologies Air Liquide uses to purify and liquefy helium at a very low temperature (–269°C) are proprietary. The liquefaction equipment is the world’s largest, measuring 20-m long and more than 8-m high. This helium liquefier is operated by RasGas.

The combined production capacity of this new unit and the existing unit on this site will be approximately 58 million m3/yr, making Qatar the world’s second largest producer of helium with 25% of current global production.

Under a long-term agreement with RasGas and Qatargas, Air Liquide will purchase 50% of the helium volumes produced by this new unit and the existing one. Access to this major helium source will position the Group as one of the main players in the worldwide helium market.

This start-up marks the next step toward helium market stability. World demand for helium has remained robust in the last ten years, while helium is scarce worldwide. Helium plays a critical role in a wide array of products. Key uses include MRI scanners, semiconductors, fiber optic cable, space exploration, scientific research, air-bag production and professional hyperbaric diving.

Hamad Rashid Al Mohannadi, RasGas CEO and vice chairman of Qatar Petroleum (QP) said, “The Helium 2 plant, which broke ground in May 2010, is the second helium project to be built in Qatar, and we are very pleased to report that in over 5 million man hours worked to complete this project, we have maintained a lost time incident rate (LTIR) of zero. Achieving such a remarkable milestone is a clear testimony to RasGas’ commitment to creating and maintaining a safe work environment in a complex construction project that involved thousands of contractors and employees.”



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