South Africa’s first commercial helium plant to begin construction

Energy company Renergen says construction will soon begin on the Virginia Gas Project, South Africa’s first commercial helium plant.

In a shareholder statement on Monday (28 October), Renergen said that Chinese company Western Shell Cryogenic Equipment has been =awarded the contract to supply the technology and equipment for the plant.

“The plant is expected to be operational within the first half of 2021 and will see the plant produce up to 2,700 GJ of liquid natural gas and 350 kg of liquid helium per day,” it said.

“This will make the plant the first commercial LNG facility in the country. The plant will be modularised and constructed in sizes of standard shipping containers for ease of transport and installation on site.

“The design uses mixed refrigeration cycle for the liquefaction process of the natural gas, which means the energy consumption is very low as compared to other plants at this small scale.”

Reuters reports that the project has received a $40 million loan from the US government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) after the company announced it had discovered reserves of up to 11% helium concentrations in the Free State province.

Helium is used, among other things, to cool superconducting magnets in medical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, as a lifting gas in balloons and airships, as a gas to breathe in deep-sea diving and to keep satellite instruments cool.

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South Africa’s first commercial helium plant to begin construction