At an estimated cost of around $40m, the construction of BOC’s helium plant in Darwin doesn’t present as a headline act against the billion dollar plus projects currently on the books around the country. However, when you turn an import into an export industry with potential for expansion you are hitting the right buttons in today’s environment.
The Northern Territory Industry Capability Network (NTICN) has signed a Framework Agreement aimed at assisting BOC and its sub-contractors in identifying and providing NT and Australian industry with full, fair and reasonable opportunity to participate in applicable aspects of the project. This will be Australia’s first helium plant and one of only 15 in the world when production commences in mid-2009.
About one-third of the helium will be transported by road to Australian customers, reducing Australia’s dependence on imports which come primarily from America. The plant will supply 2-3% of the world’s helium demand. BOC will recover the helium from Darwin LNG plant’s nitrogen vent gas stream that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.
The helium will be purified and liquefied, before it is loaded into specially designed cryogenic containers which will keep the helium at an extremely low temperature for shipment.
The plant will be housed in a prefabricated steel building designed to survive heavy wind or earthquakes or tremors (this is an area of low seismic activity). About 150 loads of helium will be produced each year, with an average of three trucks leaving each week.
The helium produced at Darwin will be shipped as a cryogenic liquid. At atmospheric pressure, helium becomes a liquid at -268°C. The helium will be transported to transfill facilities in Sydney & Melbourne , where the bulk product will be repackaged into smaller containers (small liquid containers called “dewars” or high pressure gaseous cylinders or tube trailers).
The other two thirds will be shipped by container ship to Asian markets.
The future for the oil and gas industry in the Northern Territory is an exciting one. The Darwin LNG plant was a milestone in that a major multinational ‘broke ranks’ and established itself in a new location. An expansion to this plant is expected at some time in the relatively near future and other projects are in the ‘pipeline’.
Supply to the BOC helium plant is not only assured, but has the potential to grow on the back of further expansion. It will remain a niche export market, but any project that turns an import into an export deserves recognition and commendation.
This article first appeared in the eighth edition of Capability News published by the Industry Capability Network Limited.
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