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Enhanced helium recovery

Image Number 9 for United States Patent #5632803.

The disclosed hybrid membrane and pressure swing adsorption process can recover helium from source streams of about 0.5 to 5 percent by volume helium and concentrate the helium to a concentration of greater than about 98 percent by volume. The process comprises a membrane separation followed by two stages of pressure swing adsorption which are used in series. The source gas will primarily contain hydrocarbons but will contain some nitrogen. The membrane unit will contain a semipermeable membrane which is permeably selective for helium and will to the extent feasible reject hydrocarbons. The permeate gas will be increased in helium content by 2 to 10 times. Part of the residue gas is used in the regeneration of the adsorbent beds in the first stage of pressure swing adsorption. Each stage of pressure swing adsorption will contain a plurality of adsorbent beds, and will be cycled through multiple phases. In the first stage the adsorbent beds will sequentially undergo the phases of adsorption, recycle, depressurization, evacuation, helium pressurization and recycle feed pressurization. The product gas from the first stage is flowed to the second stage and in the second stage sequentially will undergo the phases of adsorption, depressurization, evacuation, purge, and helium pressurization. The offgas from the evacuation and purge in the second stage is flowed to input to the first stage. The process efficiently produces a product stream with a helium content of more than 98 percent by volume.

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