The Skikda plant is designed to produce 600 million cubic feet a year (cf/y) of helium and is estimated to cost about $75 million-100 million. The initial schedule proposed the plant coming on stream in 2003, but start-up is now set for 2005, industry sources say. Feedstock for the facility will be stripped off natural gas as it is separated at the nearby liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal.

Other bidders for the stake included BOC Gasesof the UK, France’s Air Liquideand Air Products & Chemicalsof the US.

Air Liquide and Air Products & Chemicals are both involved in Algeria’s only other helium plant, Helios, which is located at Arzew, drawing helium from the LNG plant there.

Algeria is one of only four countries where helium is known to be found in natural gas, the others being Russia, Poland and the US. Together these countries’ production capacity is 6,650 million cf/y.