Russia and Britain hear each other
The 4th Russian-British Raw Materials Dialogue, which this year due to the pandemic was held in an online format on the Zoom platform, came to an end. Despite the fact that political relations between our states are “virtually dead” at the moment, the forum, on the contrary, was in high demand. After all, it has remained one of the few discussion platforms where scientists and businessmen from the two countries can exchange experiences and discuss the most promising areas of mutually beneficial cooperation.
Delegates from Foggy Albion emphasized that the truth is born in disputes and the struggle of opinions, even if they are often directly opposite. And in order to find an adequate answer to the challenges facing humanity, such as coronavirus and climate change, you must at least hear each other and understand why your partners think the way they do.
The liveliest discussion on the first day of the forum was devoted to the future of the fuel and energy complex. It is no secret that in the United Kingdom, as well as in continental Europe, they believe that in 30 years the share of electricity generation from fossil fuels will fall to a minimum. Wind turbines, solar panels, and hydrogen will provide the bulk of generation.
“In 2050, electricity generation in the UK will be based on renewable sources, nuclear power plants, and natural gas, with the mandatory use of technologies to capture and recycle CO2 when it is burned in thermal power plants. Passenger cars and heating systems will be electrified. As for trucks, airplanes, and ships, they are also likely to use biofuels and hydrogen as fuel,” Colin Church, Executive Director of the Institute of Materials, Minerals, and Mining (IOM3, London), shared his plans for the future.
Vladimir Litvinenko, Rector of St. Petersburg Mining University, noted that the oil and gas industry will undergo significant changes in the next five years. The reasons will be excessive volatility in demand and prices, leading to lower investment in exploration, competition from renewable energy sources, and pressure from society and regulators.
At the same time, one of the initiators of the Russo-British Dialogue believes that in case of intensified transition to the new energy model, the world economy will face a significant decrease in profitability. This will happen, in particular, due to the lack of available technologies for storing the energy generated by renewables, as well as difficulties in the storage and transportation of hydrogen.
“Many of today’s expectations for global energy development are very likely to be wrong. That’s why we need to focus not only on renewables or hydrogen but also on introducing affordable, cost-effective technologies that minimize the impact on ecosystems of traditional energy sources. This includes carbon capture and storage technologies. We need more research funds to develop them and bring them to market. Today, unfortunately, investments in the West are primarily invested in the intensification of the energy transition,” emphasized Vladimir Litvinenko.
Rod Cave, Regional Director for Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia of the consulting company CRU, noted that one of the most serious criteria for Europe when introducing certain innovations into production now becomes, in addition to profitability, their impact on the environment.
“Economic priorities cannot change overnight, that's understandable. Nevertheless, a certain transformation is taking place, and this trend will only intensify. Our projections suggest an increase in government and corporate spending aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions, as well as the introduction of fundamentally new technologies. They will become more and more popular, and open up additional opportunities for us. We are talking, among other things, about developments related to renewable energy, hydrogen, and ammonia production,” said Rod Cave.
Martin Lambert, a senior researcher at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, assessing the prospects of introducing H2 as a global energy resource, reminded that "today there is no market for hydrogen as such in principle. Nevertheless, the British do have hopes for a change in the conjuncture.
“We already see certain developments in this area. We are observing the implementation of specialized projects at the level of prototypes. I think that by 2025, the first results may appear,” said Mr. Lambert.
Even though most of his Russian colleagues are assessing with some skepticism the possibility of introducing hydrogen as a global energy resource, the scientific research on production, storage, and transportation of nature’s lightest gas is also done in our country. Scientists of St. Petersburg Mining University and scientists of Gazprom, which produces about 350 thousand tons of H2 per year, are also engaged in these activities. The main consumers are petrochemical companies, primarily methanol producers.
“If transportation technologies were improved, we could supply a significant amount of hydrogen to the foreign market. It should be understood that the so-called green hydrogen produced from water, i.e. by electrolysis, is much more expensive than the one produced by steam reforming methane. This means that its use in the energy sector will require serious state subsidies. Otherwise, the cost of electricity for households and businesses is doomed to grow significantly," Alexander Ishkov, head of Gazprom’s Energy Saving and Ecology Department, warned his British colleagues.
Charles Hendry, President of the Governing Board of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, recalled that when he became Minister of Energy in 2010, the share of renewable energy in the total generation volume of the fuel and energy complex of Great Britain was only 5%. Now it has reached 40%. Ten years ago one could only dream about such figures, but they have become reality. Therefore, no matter how fantastic plans related to achieving carbon neutrality may seem, they may well come true. However, this does not mean that the era of fossil fuels is nearing its end.
“We fully understand and recognize that the world's population will need oil, gas, and even coal for many years to come. According to forecasts, by 2040 global electricity consumption is expected to grow by 25%, including by reducing the number of those who today have no access to it at all, which is about 2 billion people. Naturally, this demand will be met, including at the expense of hydrocarbons. So we need to develop technologies for capturing and utilizing CO2, to make their use carbon-neutral. And I see huge potential here for Russia and the UK to join forces,” said Hendry.
Vladimir Litvinenko is also convinced that Russia and the UK need to intensify their cooperation in this field because these technologies will become one of the most sought-after products in the global fuel and energy market. Today there are innovations related to capturing carbon dioxide and its further processing. However, all of them are very expensive, so only real scientific and production flagships, such as SIBUR, are involved in production.
In order to significantly increase the number of companies interested in reducing their carbon footprint, scientists need to improve the technology. Both Europe and America understand this very well. It is no coincidence that Elon Musk promised $100 million to the scientist who would invent the best method of CO2 capture in terms of efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
"The project to capture carbon dioxide vapor was presented by Total 20 years ago. At that time it seemed fantastic, but today it is already implemented, including at a number of fields in Great Britain. This is undoubted progress. The UK mining industry is going through a renaissance now and I am very glad that your country has enough sober-minded people who understand that resource provision, especially in the energy sector, is the basis for the retention of sovereignty," said Vladimir Litvinenko to his British colleagues.
Vladimir Razumov, vice president of SIBUR; Trevor Lewis, director of the Russian branch of the UK Foreign Trade Department; Sam French, leading engineer at Johnson Matthey Chemical Company; Roman Samsonov, executive director of the Russian Gas Society; and Alexey Uchenov, director of the Strategic Development Department of the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade also took part in the discussion about the future of the global energy sector and the prospects for cooperation between our countries in the energy sector.
Another central theme of the forum was “Green Mining.” Both sides spoke about their solutions to minimize the negative impact on ecosystems, reduce production waste, as well as improve labor safety.
Andrey Guryev, CEO of PhosAgro, prefaced the discussion by saying that during the four years of its existence, "Dialog has become a key platform for discussing issues of efficient use of raw materials, innovative, educational and scientific development. That is why it is very important that the organizers, despite the difficulties associated with the pandemic, still decided to hold the forum, albeit online.
“Here it is necessary to give credit to Mining University, the oldest technical university in Russia and, at the same time, the most modern and advanced one. For PhosAgro, it is the main forge of human resources. About 70% of the company’s management and engineering staff are graduates of this institution. With the help of its specialists and Vladimir Litvinenko personally, our long-term development strategy was developed, thanks to the implementation of which the company is one of the world’s leaders. It is no coincidence that the International Center of Competencies in Mining Engineering Education was created based on Gorny under the auspices of UNESCO, acting as a co-organizer of the Dialogue. This is an important project in which PhosAgro and I personally are actively involved,” said Andrey Guryev.
He also added that without innovation, it is impossible to ensure competitiveness in the market and the company’s high growth rate.
“Science in production is not noticeable, but its absence has an immediate effect. That is why PhosAgro annually allocates more than 35 billion rubles for development and R&D,” summed up the company's CEO.
Christian Blackmore, Vice President of the British Institute of Materials, Minerals, and Mining, reminded in the discussion that while humanity plans to abandon the use of some resources, such as coal, in the future, the demand for many other minerals, on the contrary, will only increase. In particular, copper, aluminum, cobalt, necessary for the development of renewable energy sources, that is, for decarbonization.
“We need to think about how we will dispose of the waste arising at every stage of the production cycle, from extraction to the consumption of these raw materials. It is very important to find a way to put them to good use. In particular, we have to more actively involve in the development of the so-called man-made deposits, the development of which was previously impossible, but today, thanks to advances in technology, is already of business interest,” said Christian Blackmore.
Alexander Gilgenberg, head of AO Apatit (a member of PhosAgro Group), spoke about how Russian companies apply practices aimed at preserving the environment. He emphasized that modern, responsible business must be based on innovation:
"It is important to minimize the impact on the environment through the reduction of rock mass excavation, the involvement of poor ores, overburden, and technogenic deposits, and recycling. We are already seeing the effects of more modern energy technologies, more productive internal combustion engines, and electric traction motors."
Alexander Gilgenberg also called digitalization and automation of production facilities a serious contribution to reducing the anthropogenic impact on the environment:
“You can take the example of the tracking system for mineral fertilizers, our end product. When we trace the entire path of a bag of fertilizer, we understand how sustainably the farmer is using the product. Applying fertilizer outside of the manufacturer's recommendations can have a negative impact on the soil. Therefore, control in this matter is very important. This is one of the components of the careful attitude to nature.”
The speakers at the “Green Mining” panel discussion were also Karen Nash, Chief Environmental and Social Specialist at Micon; Stephan Wilson, Managing Director of Paterson & Coke; Maxim Remchukov, Head of Sustainable Development at SIBUR; Oleg Kazanin, Dean of the Mining Department at Mining University, and several other delegates.
Many of them have participated in the Dialogue since 2017, when it was organized for the first time. Let us remind that two of the three forums were held in St. Petersburg, and one was held in London. This year’s Forum was also supposed to take place in the British capital, and it was supposed to take place last fall. However, the sanitary and epidemiological restrictions imposed in connection with the pandemic not only shifted the conference dates but also moved it to a virtual space.
Let us note that the organizers of the online event, which took place over two days, 25-26 March, were the International Centre for Competence in Mining Engineering Education under the auspices of UNESCO and the Institute of Materials, Minerals, and Mining (IOM3).