Direct helium recovery from natural gas by dual reflux pressure swing adsorption cascade

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Low-cost helium recovery processes optimised for unconventional sources e.g. small-scale natural gas (NG) reservoirs, offer a new approach to meeting growing demand. We investigated a two-stage dual reflux pressure swing adsorption (DR PSA) cascade for the recovery and purification of dilute helium from various natural gas source analogues comprising of CH4 + N2 + He. First, adsorption isotherms of a binderless zeolite 13X with high methane and nitrogen uptake were measured at 283 to 323 K and pressures up to 10 bar. This material was then used in a laboratory-scale DR PSA apparatus to identify key parameters affecting the separation performance, namely feed step time and location, as well as heavy product and light reflux flow rate. The experiments agreed well with the results of a non-isothermal numerical DR PSA model with an average deviation of 1 mol% between simulated and experimental product purities. Then, the model was extended to consider a two-stage DR PSA cascade with waste recycle. Axial composition profiles within the beds of each stage were obtained numerically and analysed to explain the impact of key process parameters on the separation performance. Tuning these parameters accordingly led to a helium-rich product with over 99 mol% He purity, which could be produced from various natural gas feeds containing from 0.1 to 1 mol% He at 90 to 98% recovery, respectively. The separation performance was compared to other helium recovery processes based on cryogenic distillation, membranes, pressure swing adsorption, and combinations thereof. Compared to these other systems, the DR PSA cascade process delivered a 99 mol% purity product from a 0.1 mol% helium in natural gas feed with 8% higher helium recovery.

Original languageEnglish
Article number137894
Number of pages10
JournalChemical Engineering Journal
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2022


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