by Yaroslav RENKAS, journalist
From February 25 to 28 of this year the All-Union Exhibition Center in Moscow was the site of one of the most prestigious meetings of businessmen - the 4th Moscow International Salon of Innovations and Investments.
Its sponsors included the RF Ministry of Industry, Science and Technologies, Russia's Ministry of Economic Development, ROSPATENT, the Government of Moscow and the RF Chamber of Trade and Industry. The forum's agenda focused on promising projects, propaganda of the R&D potential of our domestic producers, and the like. In the focus of special attention was the Trans-Polar branch of NORILSKY NIKEL mining and metallurgical company - the world's biggest producer of metals of the platinum group.
The city of Norilsk, associated with the company and its name, was founded in 1935. Its truly heroic history has been a chronicle of daring scientific thought and continuing R&D efforts. The extreme natural-climatic and geographical conditions of Trans-Polar region (Krasnoyarsk Territory) required from the "pioneer" settlers, and from the industrial producers operating there today, some truly unorthodox technical solutions. The local ore deposits of unique richness and diversity required for their development some of the latest achievements of Russian and international science and technology, highly effective methods of raws extraction and production of non- ferrous and precious metals.
Originally the development of new processing technologies of copper-nickel sulfide ores was the responsibility of specialists of the Leningrad Institute SOYUZNIKELOLOVOPROEKT - a name which speaks for itself. Later on, however, local
researchers convinced the government of the need to launch the production of metals "on the spot", in Norilsk, and building there what they called a "minor" metallurgical plant for the development of the basic technologies. These were intended for the subsequent construction of a bigger metallurgical plant and also for a geocryological (study of frozen ground phenomena) station, a scientific-research lab of ore dressing and an experimental-metallurgical center (OMC).
Believe it or not, but OMC began its research work in a log cabin built there in 1930 by a geological team of SOYUZZOLOTO on the bank of a local streamlet. Inside the cabin there was a water well-an important "convenience" for the time and the local conditions. Within the narow cabin researchers were able to install a cupola furnace with a base of about 0.3 m 2 and a twin-hearth roasting kiln. The cabin contained a hydro-metallurgical electrolysis and analytical labs. And it
was topped by a steel smoke pipe of 20 m.
On June 18, 1938 GMC NORILSKY NIKEL went into operation with 1.5 tons of converter matte*.
In the 1940s local specialists developed a technology of production of black and electrolytic copper. After the Great Patriotic War of 1941 - 1945 they started building a special plant for its production which was put into operation in 1949. Some problems with the new plant were caused by the formation of high-melting (infusible) nickel slags during conversion. But with time the processes of progressive high-heat refining were fully mastered. The first electrolytic copper was produced in 1951.
At that time "polar" R&D specialists were united "under the roof of the Mining Experimental Research Station (GOIS). Rapid development work began at the NORILSKI copper-nickel deposits followed by launching of the ZAPOLYARNY mine. Its specialists worked on systems of what they call forced block caving with one or two-stage extraction and conducted tests on improving drilling-blasting methods and systems of working supports, including stem supports which were later adopted at all local mines. At open sections explosive rock cutting techniques were replaced with drilling. Used there for the first time was what they call the extraction- electrolysis technology of production of cobalt of grade K-O with the use of synthetic fatty acids.
On January 1, 1958 OMV and GOIS formed a common research structure of the Norilsky Plant-Mining-Metallurgical R&D Workshop (GMOIC) which was given a new status in 1991. Its activities were directed, as before, at improving the production of "Norilsk metals" and making them more competitive on the home and world markets. Today the
* Converter matte - iron-free suffide; intermediate product from manufacture of copper and nickel from sulfide ores. - Ed.
center has at its disposal key specialized labs developing and introducing new mining technologies which provide for highly effective and safe mining operations at great depths and in the conditions of the Far North. At three of these centers specialists are also keeping check on seismic activities, assess the stress-deformed conditions of rock mass, supports, preparations for and the conduct of well shooting and drilling. Two of the labs are working on new ore-dressing methods and the other six are focusing on problems of metallurgy and utilization of sulfur dioxide. And still another lab is providing technical support for all of these studies.
Shown at the exhibition displays were some of the latest achievements of the Norilsk researchers, including new technology of silver refinement with the use of its electroextraction from nitric acid electrolyte. Its introduction has made it possible to markedly improve working conditions in workshops, reduce the amounts of silver- containing by-products and boost the output of the industrial equipment involved.
Shown at the Salon was a process of autoclave-oxidation leaching of converter matte with the help of used nickel anolyte which speeds up the rate of the chemical process as such and the production of enriched copper sulfide.
Interesting studies were also presented of what experts call the by-stage leaching of copper-nickel granulated converter matte, new methods of refinement of copper concentrate, processes of "iron-cleaning" of cobalt solution, of boosting the productivity of filtering equipment, studies of the capacities of different types of diaphragm fabrics in the process of nickel electrolysis, etc.
But the main achievement of GMOIC experts over the past few years has been the development of technologies which provide the basis of "The Concept of NORILSKY NIKEL Development Until 2015". The main idea of the program is that
every "free" ruble must be used for improving production, and research, for the development of new energy-saving and effective technological systems and for the modernization of the company's assets. Work in these directions is already in full swing.
At the end of 2003 an agreement was signed between the Russian Academy of Sciences and NORILSKY NIKEL under which the company will invest up to 40 mln dollars a year into studies linked the development of hydrogen energetics and fuel elements. The company, which accounts for more than one half of the world output of palladium, has an obvious interest in this research because palladium lies at the basis of "hydrogen technology" which is the most promising alternative to carbohydrates whose resources are large, but not unlimited.
In the new fuel element being developed now the energy of hydrogen will be transformed directly into electricity without a combustion stage-without using any internal combustion engines, diesel motors or turbines. As a result the efficiency of a fuel element of this kind could be brought up to 90 percent which is 2 - 3 times higher than in the traditional power units. The new machinery will be "environment-friendly" (with exhausts of either water or water with carbon oxide gas) and practically silent. They can also be incorporated into systems of high capacity as well as for car engines and power sources for office equipment.
Hydrogen energetics is not the one and only area of research on the agenda of NORILSKY NIKEL now. Its other priorities is the construction
and launching of facilities of its "raw materials base" providing for the timely replacement of old equipment, boosting technical "rearmament" of plants; introduction of automated systems of control over technological processes; nature protection measures for reducing harmful discharges and improving ecological conditions. The aforesaid development projects will make it possible to increase the output of raws. On the Taimyr, for example, it is planned to bring up the output to 7.6 mln tons a year and boost the mining of cuprous ores up to 5 mln tons. The production of nickel in the region will reach an annual average of 200 thous. tons, of copper- about 400 thous. tons a year and of metals of the platinum group - on the level close to the present one.
Plans of the NORILSKY NIKEL also include gold. At the end of the year 2002 it bought 100 percent of shares of the POLYUS company-Russia's leader in the production of gold by open mining at the Olympiadinskoye deposit. After that it also bought the control package of shares of the LENZOLOTO company. After that it was decided to set up an independent company on the basis of POLYUS. Its assets could be in excess of 3 bin dollars.
In a word, by developing its innovative and investments activities the mining-and- metallurgical giant of this country's north is rapidly boosting its economic potential. The main objective of its management is to become a world leader in the ore-mining and metallurgical industry, a "model" of economic management in the conditions of Russia's Far North.
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