South Africa To Develop Gas/Helium Field

German industrial gases giant Linde signed an agreement May 4 with Johannesburg-listed alternative energy company Renergen to develop a helium and natural gas field near Welkom in South Africa, making it the country’s first onshore natural gas production site. Linde said the Free State field, with proven reserves of 25bn ft3, contains on average 3%-4% helium by volume — making it a tiny gas field that is worth developing. Helium, a scarce and expensive commodity, is typically found trapped in gas fields at concentrations no higher than 1% by volume of natural gas released. The field is expected to start production in 2018. Under the agreement, Renergen will supply Linde with helium reserves via an offtake contract. Linde will provide the high-tech patented extraction technology to separate the helium from the natural gas, then purify, compress, liquefy and store it ready for distribution. Linde’s African subsidiary, Afrox, will operate the plant and market the helium. “Along with our helium sources in USA, Qatar, Australia and Algeria, this supply agreement re-confirms Linde’s position as the supplier with access to the most diversified helium source portfolio,” said Nick Haines, head of global sourcing at Linde’s helium and rare gases division. The plant will be of modular design and precision manufactured in Europe before being shipped to the Free State for fast and efficient construction. Renergen notes that the field was created by the impact of a gigantic meteor about 2 billion years ago, with the resultant helium now present created by the natural radioactive decay of heavy radioactive elements (thorium and uranium). This radiogenic helium is trapped with natural gas in concentrations up to 7% by volume.

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