Opportunities for Helium Development in Australia

This report is the deliverable for Milestone 1.1.1 of the FEnEx CRC’s Commonwealth Grant Agreement.  Helium is a unique substance of significant value (4 to 7 USD/m3), which is most efficiently produced from natural gas. Global demand for helium is rising, with frequent shortages and a supply-side oligopoly. Australia has an estimated 3.6 billion m3  of helium in its natural gas resources (21 years of global consumption) with the Surat, Gunnedah, Canarvon, Canning and Perth basins being amongst the most prospective. However, BOC is Australia’s only producer and supplier of helium, receiving feed from Darwin LNG’s nitrogen rejection unit (NRU) vent, even though other Australian LNG plants with single or double-column NRUs are likely venting gas with comparable or higher helium concentrations to the atmosphere.

This report synthesises the publically available data to summarise Australia’s helium resources and identify the most prospective opportunities for its commercial recovery. Project costs and helium plant economics are presented and new recovery technologies that do not require cryogenic operation are reviewed. Together with a helium plant profitability analysis, these sections provide a range of options for natural gas producers in Australia to potentially extract additional value with comparatively modest further investment. Specific recommendations are made for Phillip Creek Compressor Station, Waitsia Gas Project, Wesfarmers LPG, Santos Narrabi Gas Project, and Ichthys LNG. The report also considers the effects of decarbonisation on helium recovery, including through the production of blue hydrogen and various vectors such as ammonia and liquid hydrogen.

Authors:

Dr Luke McElroy, Curtin University & FEnEx CRC Foundation Fellow

Dr Gongkui Xiao, The University of Western Australia

Mr Roman Weh, The University of Western Australia

For a full copy of the report, email

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