Ras Laffan Liquefied Natural Gas Company (RasGas) has awarded the deal to build a new helium unit at Ras Laffan to France’s Air Liquide, according to a company statement.

The French firm beat its close rival – the US’s Air Products – to secure the estimated $200m engineering, procurement and construction deal for a new  helium extraction, purification and liquefaction unit, which will be installed in Ras Laffan Industrial City in the north of the country.

The project is expected to be completed in 2013. The unit will purify and liquefy helium at a temperature of minus 269°C using proprietary Air Liquide technology. Operated by RasGas, the 38 million cubic-metre-a-year (cm/y) helium liquefier unit will be the largest in the world.

Qatar Liquefied Gas Company (Qatargas) and Rasgas currently produce 20 million cm/y of helium from Ras Laffan Helium Project, which was commissioned in 2005. With total production at 58 million cm/y, Qatar will hold some 25 per cent of global production.

Under a long-term agreement with the two state-run gas producers, Air Liquide will be able to purchase 50 per cent of the helium produced by the new unit.

Commercial helium is extracted from natural gas, which typically contains 7 per cent helium. Qatar has approximately 25.5 trillion cubic metres of gas reserves. According to the US Geological Survey in 2008, Qatar produced 12.5 million cubic metres of helium, out of global total of 169 million cubic metres.