The import of liquid helium reached its peak in 2014 and has been steadily declining since then. It amounted to 241 thousand m3 in 2015, and is expected at 150 thousand m3 this year.
Sales of liquid helium by Gazprom Gazenergoset equaled to 1.89 million m3 in 2015; a slight decline is expected this year with the forecast at minus 6.5% to 1.77 million m3. Mr. Koinov said that supplies to the domestic market will exceed 40% of the total sales volume in 2016. In general, the sales to the Russian consumers have grown over the past few years. This growth is supported by launches of new filling stations and enhancement of electronic trading services (better sales flexibility and transparency).
The speaker noted that the total sales volume is close to maximum production capacities. In general, the Russian market has certain limits and is developing together with the economy; and it is in this regard that the excess production is exported through Gazprom Export.
Sales of gaseous helium reached 3 million m3 in 2015, with growth expected in 2016 to 3.27 million m3; the increase to be caused by higher sales of grade B helium. The sales of grade A helium are relatively stable (approximately at 100 thousand m3).
According to the speaker, higher sales of grade B helium are explained by the growth of economy, new helium applications and replacement of imports.
Mr. Koinov noted that the sales of gaseous helium through the electronic trading platform were annually growing. Back in 2013, when electronic platform was launched, 9% of the total volume was traded there, while now the share of electronic trading has reached 20% and is expected to stay at that level in future. «In theory, we can sell even 30% through ETP, - said the expert. - In Europe, the share is 10%. We keep the average level that suits both the Federal Antimonopoly Service and the consumers».
In general, Gazprom Gazenergoset has reached its goals in the helium market and does not intend to be proactive in the near future. Dmitry Mironov, General Director of the company, said that the targets set two-three years ago are now achieved, and there is a certain balance in the market. In recent years, the company solved the main tasks of Russian helium market infrastructure development: liquid helium production was launched, sales points established in major consumption centers like Moscow, St. Petersburg and Novosibirsk, and electronic trading set up as a transparent pricing mechanism.
Dmitry Koinov added that the company sees certain growth points in helium consumption: these are respiratory gases and renewed zeppelin construction. At the same time, Gazprom Gazenergoset has no plans to invest in the development of consuming industries. At present, company's participation in stimulation of demand is indirect: the main efforts are focused on market transparency and availability of the product.
Alexander Bazvanov, General Director of Tehmed Company, asked whether Gazprom had any plans to develop the trading policy for liquid helium. Mr. Koinov answered that the trading policy for gaseous helium had been recently adopted and implemented, and is now tested in practice. When this process is completed, the time for the liquid helium will come, too. At the same time, the expert said, trading of liquid helium is largely similar to that of gaseous helium.
The annual growth of global demand for helium is expected at 1.5% in the next 10 years, which is lower than forecasted earlier (2-3%). According to Didier Lebout, Strategy & Development Director of Gazprom Marketing & Trading France, consumption in some segments that were significantly affected by the product shortage in 2011-2013, didn’t recover to previous levels. The demand was partly taken over by helium substitutes. The most optimistic scenario implies average annual growth rate of 2.5% (on the basis of historical trends over the past 15 years). This corresponds to by-country and by-application forecasts of helium demand behavior.
However, the helium shortage in the world will be back, says Didier Lebout. The by-country outlook to 2030 expects the 85 million m3 gap. This calculation ignores the production volumes of Amur GPP, but includes all FID projects and an estimate of 25% of other projects announced. It is expected that exporters will seek to reduce logistics costs by supplying the product to neighboring regions to take competitive advantage of geographic proximity.
Nick Haines, Head Global Helium Source Development at Linde Global Helium, commented on the situation in the US helium market. He described it as «helium gold rush», implying that oil and gas companies are highly interested in special gases, including helium. Among other reasons, such interest is caused by declining prices for oil and natural gas. According to Mr. Haines, plenty of helium production projects have been announced in the United States by now, but it is unclear how many of them will be commissioned. «To announce a new project and to launch production are two different things. Average project completion time is 5-8 years, while it is feasible to spend time and efforts on a capacity of at least 300 containers», - concluded the expert.
Referring to the Amur GPP, Didier Lebout noted that the project would change the whole paradigm of the global helium market. The helium capacity of the plant can be expanded with minimum investment in natural gas production and transportation. The volume of helium reserves contained in natural gas at Chayanda and Kovykta fields is many times higher than the current project is designed for. Theoretically, taking into consideration the reserves of Yakutsk and Irkutsk gas production centers, the annual helium output can reach and be maintained at 180 million m3.
The speaker noted that for the first time in the world helium history, a single production source would be enough to cover the forecasted shortage in the global market in various scenarios during the next 30 years.
According to Andrey Blinov, Head of Oil, Petroleum Products and Petrochemicals Marketing and Export at Gazprom Export, the main helium volumes will be supplied to the world’s largest consumers. Contracting will obviously take a good deal of time. Moreover, the contracts will have to comply with corporate rules applied by the parties; negotiations may well last for up to six months.
Anatoly Kim, General Director of Gazenergoset Geliy, presented detailed information on the logistics center project for helium containers services (HUB) which will be launched together with Amur GPP in 2021. The HUB will be located not far from Vladivostok in the territory of Nadezhdinskaya free economic zone. It is an integral part of Amur Gas Processing Plant in terms of providing continuous and reliable transport logistics for deliveries of commercial liquid helium to the export ports.
The estimated volume of helium that will be produced at Kovykta and Chayanda gas fields is 60 million m3. Its significant part will get liquefied and shipped to consumers abroad, which means the necessity of cryogenic motor transport from the Amur GPP to the HUB, and then to the ports of Vladivostok and Nakhodka. The distance between GPP and HUB is about 1.5 thousand km; two service stations for drivers will be built on this section of the road. Gazenergoset Geliy will operate the facilities. Anatoly Kim indicated that cryogenic containers will be owned by customers: the company does not plan to purchase tanks.
Linde Company is one of the world's leading producers of cryocontainers. Irina Uvegard, Head of Cryogenic Equipment Proposal Development Department at Linde Engineering Division, presented a new product, the Helicon 2.0 isocontainer for transportation of liquefied helium. It has enhanced performance indicators. Helium storage time is not less than 40 days, liquid nitrogen - not less than 35 days. The speaker underlined that the product loss is very low at 90% filling rate. Cryocontainers are designed for transportation by automobile and sea transport, and meet the international design standards.
Ms. Uvegard noted that the company provides its customers with all necessary licensing documents for container use in the Russian market.
Alex Varghese, Director of Engineering at Gardner Cryogenics, spoke about cryocontainers offered by his company. Gardner tanks for liquid helium transportation have a capacity from 1 to 15 thousand gallons, while stationary storage tanks range from 5 to 30 thousand gallons.
Cryomash - Balashikha Cryogenic Engineering Plant (Cryomash-BZKM) produces a wide range of cryogenic equipment for nuclear, metallurgical, chemical and petrochemical industries, for enterprises of Roskosmos and the defense industry. Alexey Semenov, Deputy General Director, presented the company's research in the field of cryogenic helium systems on the example of the current project of helium refrigerator, as well as helium purification system. The systems include helium liquefiers and refrigerators, turbo-expanders with gas-static and gas-dynamic bearing systems, pre-cooling cryogenic units, helium and nitrogen storage systems.
As the large-scale helium project is being realized in Russia, local research in the field of gas mixture separation is becoming more and more important. Tekon Membrane Technology Company develops membranes for helium extraction from gas with a reduced concentration-polarization value. Georgy Kagramanov, Head of Membrane Technology Department at Mendeleev University of Chemical Technology, announced development of the modified hollow fiber membrane with high selectivity indicators for He / CH4. Mechanical durability at 95 atm pressure on methane without plasticizing has been experimentally confirmed; geometrical fiber dimension control technology has been achieved. «We have learned how to control selectivity-permeability parameters within a polymer material, - says the expert. - Also, we have resolved several types of membranes with different parameters, similar to Air Liquide membranes (more selective - less permeable) and UBE membranes (more permeable - less selective)».
The very important factor for designing oil & gas facilities that use membrane technologies is scientific and technical support. According to Vladimir Solomakhin, Chief Specialist at Gazprom’s Central Design Bureau of Oil Devices, selection of appropriate membranes for particular application has significant importance, but it is only part of the challenge. There should be a correct approach to the requirements for target components extraction from natural gas in every process stage of membrane gas separation depending on technological capabilities. Determination of operating parameters for membrane equipment requires competent arguments and understanding of all the consequences of the solutions chosen (tangible impact on capital investment and maintenance costs). Rationale for choosing the technological schemes for gas separation should have due regard to resource-saving and energy-saving characteristics of applied technological processes. Competent understanding of possible side effects of membrane technologies application in a specific process in many cases leads to the necessity of using additional equipment. Integration of membrane technology in the classical processes must be solved comprehensively, i.e. with due account for equipment properties and specifics of gas separation processes. In some cases it is feasible to apply a more complex process and to combine different types of equipment. The speaker noted that innovation should be introduced through a correct and comprehensive approach with a reasonable degree of risk minimization.
Anton Troinikov, 1st Category Engineer at VNIPIgasdobycha, spoke on the advantages of membrane technology for extraction of helium from natural gas. He emphasized the possibility of reducing capital investment and maintenance costs while using membrane technology instead of the traditional cryogenics in a situation when helium production will exceed demand in the global market.
The process flow scheme of helium concentrate membrane separation at Chayanda oil, gas and condensate field is designed to preprocess all the gas produced at Chayanda field and to expand capacities for accommodating gas from Kovykta gas condensate field. Taking into account helium production at the Amur GPP, the maximum gas supply to membrane separation unit will depend on the market demand for commercial helium.
But the use of membrane technology in natural gas treatment is complicated by the lack of locally produced membrane elements. There are two ways to solve this problem: to establish own production from scratch or to localize existing supplies (partially or in full). The choice between the options should be done with due regard to economic feasibility, risks and test results.
The experimental membrane unit at Kovykta gas condensate field is in operation for about three years now; its experience improves the reliability of the source data for design and further operation of full-scale gas separation membrane units at Chayanda condensate field and at other Gazprom facilities. The experimental membrane unit provides an opportunity to perform tests of locally produced membrane elements on a multicomponent gas mixture in the conditions similar to the projected full-scale plant, and to assess possibilities of application in the future projects of Gazprom.
Helium is widely used already for development of new technologies, in scientific research and across various industries. In future, its application - due to the unique properties - in power plants, medical devices and R&D has a great strategic importance. Nikolay Agapov, Chief Designer of High-Energy Physics Laboratory located in Dubna (Moscow region), where a scientific NICA megaproject is being implemented, spoke about superconducting heavy-ion collider designed to study phenomena in the hyperdense hot matter. The cryogenic complex in the Laboratory includes largest helium liquefiers in Russia. The speaker reported success in testing new prototype models of locally produced equipment: helium liquefier with the capacity of 1.1 thousand liters per hour with helium rotary compressor of 30 atm and gas supply of up to 6.7 thousand Nm3 per hour. NPO Geliymash and NIIturbokompressor are suppliers to NICA project.