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Virginia gas project, South Africa – update

Helium block at the Virginia poject

Photo by Renergen

14th June 2024

By: Sheila Barradas

Creamer Media Research Coordinator & Senior Deputy Editor

     

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Name of the Project
Virginia gas project.

Location
The project spans 187 000 ha of gasfields across Welkom, Virginia and Theunissen, in the Free State, South Africa.

Project Owner/s
Tetra4, a subsidiary of domestic natural gas and helium producer Renergen.

Project Description
The project entails the construction of 52 km of gas-gathering pipeline and cryogenic liquefaction processing facilities.

The aim is to produce all South Africa’s helium requirements and export the balance of production, as well as the first liquefied natural gas (LNG), for commercial consumption.

Phase 1 aims to produce up to 350 kg/d of helium. Output will be increased through the construction of Phase 2, expected in 2026, “arguably making it amongst the bigger helium projects on the planet", Renergen CEO Stefano Marani has said.

This will deliver more than 0.4-billion cubic feet (bcf) of helium, which, over 19 years, amounts to 7.6 bcf, or just over half of its estimated proven and probable reserves.

Phase 1 of the project will produce about 50 t/d of LNG, which is about 75 000 ℓ/d of diesel equivalent.

Phase 2 of the project will entail drilling additional gas wells, constructing additional gas-gathering pipelines and a larger processing and liquefaction facility, as well as the associated road tanker distribution and downstream customer dispensing facilities.

In this phase, production output will increase by 34 400 GJ/d of LNG and 4 200 kg/d of liquid helium, in addition to the Phase 1 operation.

Potential Job Creation
It will create an estimated 360 temporary jobs during development and construction, and an estimated 160 permanent jobs once all the clusters have been developed. Although this is small, relative to mining operations, energy is typically a catalyst and has the effect of creating significant knock-on opportunities by offering clean, reliable energy.

Capital Expenditure
The total Phase 1 projected capital expenditure to roll out the first phase of production was about R1-billion, which included the cryogenic liquefiers. Phase 2 is estimated at $1.16-billion.

Planned Start/End Date
Phase 2 of the Virginia project is expected to start construction in 2023, and is expected to start operations in 2026.

Latest Developments
Renergen announced on June 11 that it had completed the shutdown, checks, calibrations and corrective actions, and had restarted the facility, resuming liquid helium production on June 4.

An original-equipment manufacturer (OEM) brought the helium cold box to the appropriate temperature to liquify helium in batches from wells at the project area in April. This process involved the purification of the helium to 99.999%, which was validated by an independent third-party laboratory.

Thereafter, Renergen advised that it would shut down the facility to restart the process from warm, demonstrating repeatability while undertaking system checks, calibrations and addressing possible corrective actions if necessary. 

The liquid helium now produced is being used to cool the remaining components of the helium train, such as tanks and pipes, to about -269 °C.

The OEM contractor must now demonstrate that it is operating the entire plant at the desired temperature, pressure and production flow parameters before the contractor is allowed to start its final contractual obligation of completing a performance test.

The test is envisioned to be conducted over seven days and will measure several critical criteria that span recoverability of product, purity of product, and overall utility efficiency to ensure that the plant performs in accordance with the original design specifications.

Helium produced during this period will be kept in storage for supply to Renergen’s customers.

Renergen has appointed two independent helium consultants to bolster its skills set for operation once the performance test is complete and the plant has been handed over.

The consultants have several decades of experience in commissioning and running liquid helium plants worldwide in countries such as Algeria, Australia, Poland, Qatar, Russia and the US.

They have already had the opportunity to engage and review the relevant design data of the process plant and assess the overall progress of the commissioning team on the front-end of the process so far.

They have indicated that no fundamental issues are likely to exist with the plant, as Renergen has successfully liquified helium from raw gas with proven repeatability, and further confirmed that the processes being followed are standard commissioning procedures for a helium plant.

Renergen has emphasised the importance of patience in this final stage of the commissioning process, as it is a crucial step in ensuring the optimal performance of the plant.

"We acknowledge it has taken longer than originally planned to reach this step, but ensuring the safe operation of the plant is our main priority right now. The progress achieved to date puts us amongst only a few companies globally to achieve this status,” Marani has said.

Key Contracts, Suppliers and Consultants
Phase 1:
Sproule, formerly MHA Petroleum (helium reserve independent expert report); and VGI (owner’s engineer regarding the engineering and procurement phase of the project).

EPCM Bonisana (gas-gathering work), a subsidiary of EPCM Holdings (engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor – Phase 1 gas-gathering pipeline).

Western Shell Cryogenic Equipment (technology and equipment); Babcock (DAF CF 430 trucks); and Volvo (FM440 trucks).

Phase 2:
Saipem (front-end engineering design, or FEED, contract for the development of the downstream LNG and liquid helium processing facilities, including the associated balance of the plant).

Sproule (evaluation and certification of reserves, based on the results of the additional data acquisition and current drilling campaign. This will build on previous work undertaken by MHA Petroleum Consultants, acquired by Sproule in 2019).

Worley RSA (scope of owners engineer role to execute the expansion of the Virginia gas project).

The company is tendering the EPC contract to experienced helium and LNG equipment suppliers, based on the FEED.

Contact Details for Project Information
Renergen, tel +27 10 045 6000, email info@renergen.co.za or investorrelations@renergen.co.za.
 

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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