This Helium recovery system is for a Proprietary Industrial Process where the Oregon based client uses Helium gas for thermal treatment in a manufacturing process. The process is asynchronous, with varying volumes of Helium being used depending on manufacturing conditions. In addition the process results in variable contamination of the Helium gas, primarily with air but also with water and other chemicals. The purity of the recovered Helium is had to be high.
Prior to recovery system implementation the client used two commercial tube trailers connected to a high pressure header at 300-3000 psi, then reduced to 80 psi for distribution within the manufacturing plant. There was no recovery of Helium. The amount of Helium used depended on manufacturing conditions, but at $34,000 per tube trailer load of Helium the annual cost was several hundred thousand dollars per year.
Helium gas price increases, frequent Helium supply disruptions and improvement in the customer's manufacturing process, were all factors in the customer's decision to buy a recovery system from Quantum.
Quantum Technology Corp. sent a team to the customer site (after signing a non-disclosure agreement - we cannot tell all details) to collect samples of used Helium and for system design discussions. Due to a lack of information about the chemistry of the recovered gas it was decided to test a pilot scale prototype recovery compressor and purifier prior to building a full-scale model. Accordingly, within two months a pilot scale plant was installed and tested for a few days. These test results confirmed a wide variation in the percentage of recovered Helium from less than 50% to 90%. A fully automatic microprocessor controlled system was decided upon for the final version. An Allen Bradley PLC system is used for compatibility with the plant PLC.
Final system design includes a primary screw compressor, a five stage Helium gas purifier with a combination of water scrubber, refrigerated drier, pressure swing adsorption and two stage diffusion membrane technologies and a screw compressor to compress the purified Helium to plant header pressure. A small air compressor is also used for regeneration of the pressure swing adsorbers.
The system automatically monitors Helium gas % at inlet, internal points and outlet using a thermal conductivity Helium purity detector. A PLC uses the output to control and optimize the purification cycle to achieve maximum recovery of Helium while maintaining in excess of 95% purity on the output.
Greater than 90% recovery of Helium at greater than 95% Helium outlet purity, even when inlet purity is about 50%. The design capacity is 1500 SCFH; at 2008 price of $0.23 per cubic foot of Helium, the system has a potential $345 per hour savings in Helium.
Quantum's Helium recovery system has been operating for a year. After initial system tuning, the system operates consistently and reliably. Capital cost payback to the customer is less than 2 years.