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by Sergei POPOV, journalist
What can be done by science to help modernize our chemical industry? This was one of the problems on the agenda of the First International Chemical Summit held in Moscow in July, 2004. The participants included senior officials of RF ministries and agencies, biggest domestic and foreign concerns represented on our home market, representatives of research and teaching institutes and of different structures of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Russia's chemical and petrochemical industry today comprises over 600 big and medium enterprises, some 100 R&D organizations and plants which employ over 800 thous. people. The range of their products includes plastics and tyres, chemical fibers and paint-and-varnish materials, mineral fertilizers and synthetic detergents. The President of the Russian Union of Chemists, Prof. Viktor Ivanov, stressed in his presentation that what he called the technological base of the industry needs cardinal modernization. This is dictated by many internal factors and mounting competition on the world markets.
So, what is to be done so that our chemical and petrochemical industries were not only able to survive, but to participate in this acute economic struggle as equals? One of the key measures in this respect is the introduction of innovations, modernization of the equipment, technologies and of the range of products. The Russian Academy of Sciences is prepared to take an active part in these activities. In April 2004, for example, the Academy signed an agreement with the government of Tatarstan on joint activities in the fields of chemistry, petrochemistry and ecology. The republic possesses considerable oil reserves (explored - 870 mn tons) and the required industrial potential for its processing (the volume of its production of tyres, polyethylene and synthetic rubber amounts to 64 percent of Russia's total). While assessing the importance of modern science as an economic factor, experts are doing their best for putting its latest achievements to productive uses.
In December 2003 this country's first factory on synthetic oils for the automobile and helicopter industries (annual output - 10 thous. tons) was put into operation in Nizhnekamsk. It is based on technologies developed at the RAS Institute of Problems of Chemical Physics (Chernogolovka). Their advantage consists in the utilization of original catalytic systems and methods of structure regulation and they also possess improved structural compositions of the new lubricants. The ОАО TATNEFTEKHIMINVEST HOLDING which put the pro-
ject into practice has been maintaining close cooperation with the Institute of Catalysis named after Boreskov of the RAS Siberian Branch (Novosibirsk), and research agencies of St. Petersburg, Yaroslavl and some cities of Byelorussia and Kazakhstan. New ideas put forward by scientists will also find applications in the newly established production centers of polyethylene, polypropylene, polycarbonates and especially at a new giant oil processing plant (annual output- 7 mn t) which is being built in Nizhnekamsk. Its "base complex" has already been put into operation and work continues on sections of deeper refining which have no analogues in Russia. In his report on these projects the Director General of the ОАО ТАТNEFTEKHIMINVEST HOLDING, Rafinat Yarullin, stressed that production experts are not only using R&D information supplied by academic centers, but turn to them with concrete orders. Conditions of the present time which make it necessary to go beyond the borders of purely fundamental research, have also been discussed in a report by Acad. Sergei Aldoshin, Director of the RAS Institute of Problems of Chemical Physics.
New basic research is the prerogative of the R&D centers of the Russian Academy of Sciences and educational centers. But how can one pass onto the industry as quickly as possible technological novelties of applied importance? Who is to bear the costs? And, finally, what is the role of the state in putting such new project to commercial uses? Answers to these difficult questions are being prepared by RAS experts who have been working for several years over problems of organization of innovative structures - what they call a technological belt which will bind academic institutes with the industrial sector. The role of links in this system can be assumed by "technoparks" and "naukograds"- technical and R&D centers. Relying on the experience of the RAS Innovative-Technological Center in Chernogolovka, Dr. Aldoshin stressed that the number of industrial orders for scientific studies has increased in recent time. He said that the RAS Innovations Agency is forming a data-analytical base for basic studies which have passed special expert assessments and can have promising practical applications. The RAS Presidium has decided to set up a common register, or catalogue, for monitoring such activities.
The Board Chairman of the ОАО MOSCOW COMMITTEE FOR
SCIENCE AND NEW TECHNOLOGIES, RAS Corresponding Member Vladimir Sister reported on one example of successful implementation of a major such project. For many years Russia has been importing a medical preparation, for the absence of its own one, needed by millions of diabetes patients. Researchers of the RAS Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry named after M. Shemyakin and Yu. Ovchinnikov have developed their own technology for the production of this drug and also two drug forms of genetically engineered human insulin. Thanks to an easy-term credit, provided by the Moscow government, pilot production has been started on the basis of the Institute which helps meet the Muscovites' requirements for the drug. Incidentally, such preparations are now being produced in only 3 countries, besides Russia. A factory is to be built in the near future that will be producing enough of this drug for all the CIS countries.
To let the leaders of the oil-and-gas industry make their own assessments of the advantages of this or that method of processing of hydrocarbon raws, scientists analyze in details the "economic component" of each of them. This was discussed by Acad. Nikolai Plate - RAS Vice-President and Director of the Institute of Petrochemical Synthesis named after A. Topchiev. These materials can be obtained, as we know, from natural gas of which this country has abundant resources*. But the classical system of production (natural gas - synthesis - gas - methanol - dimethylether - motor fuels) can be changed.
Dimethylether as such is a good fuel, comparable with propane and butane by its energy and ecological parameters. And it is also effective as a half-finished product for the production of carbohydrates. Specialists from several RAS institutes have developed a technology of dimethylether production without the methanol stage. Promising for the reprocessing of methane into synthesis-gas are modified liquid jet engines - their analogues are used for orbital maneuvering of spacecraft. In the given situation they perform the functions of a chemical reactor. A unit of this kind has been developed by the Institute of Petrochemical Synthesis in conjunction with experts of the ENERGIYA Rocket-Space Corporation named after S. Korolyov. The synthesis-gas produced in that
* See: A. Rozovsky, "Motor Fuel from Methane", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2001. -Ed.
way can be turned into dimethylether in one stage with the help of catalysts. Such reactors can also be used to produce another valuable chemical - monodispersion carbon black which is important for the manufacture of quality tyres*.
On-the-spot gas processing into benzene and diesel fuel helps cut down considerably the general expenses whose major share falls to the product liquefaction and transportation.
And the author of the report stressed that the innovations do not put an end to the classical petrochemical production. The list of products obtained on the basis of high processing of oil remains indispensable. But for a country with such abundant gas deposits as Russia, it is expedient from the technological and economic angles to consider its alternative uses, not only as a cheap fuel.
Subjective discussions on the industrial uses of new academic elaborations were carried out not only at plenary sessions, but at "round tables". They covered technical solutions for the development of promising hydrogen sources of electricity for transport (FGUP KELDYSH CENTER); comprehensive program of GMK NORILSKY NIKEL and RAS on hydrogen energetics and fuel materials**; on the possibilities of nanomaterials (Russian Chemico-Technological University named after D. Mendeleev), applications of thermal plasma in nanotechnologies (RAS Institute of Metallurgy and Materials Studies named after A. Baikov); prospects of utilization of thin-film materials in electronic devices, medicine and ecology (Moscow Aviation-Technological Institute named after K. Tsiolkovsky) and new methods of utilization of solid domestic wastes (Energetics Institute named after G. Krzhizhanovsky). The reciprocal progression of science and industry has been the central positive result of the Moscow meeting. So far that has been the only step in that direction, but there will be many more. The participants decided to hold international chemical "summits" on an annual basis.
* See: I. Shmurak, "Green Tyres", Science in Russia, No. 1,2003. - Ed.
** See: Ya. Renkas, "On the Road of Innovations and Investments", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2004. - Ed.
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