Construction of South Africa’s first commercial liquid helium plant located in Free State has commenced according to Renergen, the project’s developer, and renewable energy provider. On a statement, the company mentioned that it has awarded the contract for the supply of equipment for the plant to a Chinese company known as Western Shell Cryogenic Equipment Co. (WSCE), while that of installation of pipeline has been won by EPCM Holdings, an Engineering, Contracting and operation company focused on the Energy and industrial Sector. Funded by the U.S government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) at a tune of approximately US $40m, the project’s first phase is expected to come online by 2021, with a daily production capacity of about 350kg of helium. This capacity is however expected to shoot to between 1.2 tonne and 5 tonne a day upon the completion of the projects second phase between 2022 and 2023.
World’s richest concentration of helium
The Virginia Gas Project according to Renergen CEO Mr. Stefano Marani, has arguably the richest concentration of helium on the planet. Its wells contain helium concentrations of between 2% and 11% while other projects around the globe have a concentration of between 0.1% and 0.3%. It is said that when fully operational, this project will make South Africa the only commercial helium producer in Africa and one of the few countries in the world, eight to be precise, exporting the natural resource alongside the United States and Qatar.
Uses of Helium
Helium is used in medical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners and computed tomography scans, in the manufacture of electronics such as televisions, cellphones and laptops, and in deep-sea diving. It is also used to keep satellite instruments cool and as a lifting gas in balloons and airships among other things.