The plant will be built by Linde Engineering, which signed the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract on the same day. The Skikda facilities will have capacity to produce 600 million cubic feet a year (cf/y) of helium, 100 tonnes a day (t/d) of liquid nitrogen and 40 t/d of nitrogen gas. Total investment in the plant, which is scheduled to come on stream in mid-2005, is Eur 80 million ($87 million). The feedstock will be stripped from helium-rich gas passing through the nearby liquefied natural gas (LNG) complex at Skikda. The process is already successfully operating at the Helios plant in Arzew.
Sonatrach and Linde will soon form a second joint venture, this time based in France, which will market the gas. The majority of the helium will be exported to Europe, while some of the nitrogen will be used domestically. Algeria is one of a handful of countries in which commercially-accessible helium is found in natural gas. It is the second largest helium producer after the US.
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