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A large-scale competition of young scientists started in St. Petersburg

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More than a thousand graduate and postgraduate students from flagship Russian and foreign technical universities participated in it. They will present the results of their scientific research related to increasing the efficiency of mining and energy companies as well as reducing the anthropogenic impact on ecosystems.

The official opening ceremony of the International Forum-Contest “Topical Problems of Subsoil Use” took place on Monday, May 31, in Saint Petersburg Mining University. This annual conference traditionally becomes a platform for young researchers from all over the world, who want to tell about their projects to the representatives of the mineral resources industry and scientific-educational community. This year it is held in a hybrid format. Nearly 200 delegates from Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan came to St. Petersburg in person, while the rest, representing 45 other countries, will make their presentations online.

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Almost all of the experts with whom Forpost was able to speak on the sidelines emphasized the fact that today our civilization is facing a challenge no less serious than a pandemic or even the threat of nuclear war. On the one hand, to ensure its further socio-economic development, mankind must produce raw materials, and in ever greater quantities. But on the other hand, it must simply reduce the technogenic burden on the environment. Minimize carbon dioxide emissions and the number of accidents caused by oil spills, and recycle as much industrial waste as possible.

Our future largely depends on whether we can combine these seemingly incompatible things. Find the proverbial golden mean between technical progress and ecology. But how realistic is this? According to the honorable guests of the Forum, the answer to this question should be formulated exactly during such competitions as “Topical problems of subsoil use”. After all, talented and energetic young people get an opportunity here to tell about their developments to veteran experts who are ready to take them on board and introduce them into production.

However, we should not confuse the need to minimize the damage we do to nature with the desire to “hype”, passing off rather questionable ideas as the only true development paradigm. The rector of St. Petersburg Mining University, Vladimir Litvinenko, reminded the audience about this.

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“Society today is imposed a simplified understanding of reality. We are told that we can take a glass of water, isolate hydrogen from it, and have no problem getting the amount of energy we need. But if it were that simple, we would have switched to environmentally friendly technologies long ago. It’s no secret that the first hydrogen-powered car drove here, on the streets of Leningrad, back in 1941. And the first airplane using this fuel was also developed and successfully tested in the Soviet Union, in the eighties. Why do these projects, like all analogs created today in the West, exist only as prototypes? The answer is simple. Unfortunately, there are physical laws of the world around us that will not allow hydrogen to become a global energy resource,” Vladimir Litvinenko noted.

Among reasons why it will not happen in the foreseeable future, he named the high cost of production of H2, its low energy intensity as well as the absence of reliable technologies for safe storage and transportation (the current pipelines are not suitable for this). In addition, the lightest gas in nature is much more explosive than methane, and its combustion temperature is much higher. It reaches 2 thousand degrees, and such conditions lead to the formation of nitrogen oxides - a deadly substance for humans.

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“The global fuel and energy balance will be based on hydrocarbons for a long time to come. However, even when their importance to society becomes much lower than it is today, raw materials will still be the basis for the development of civilization. Lithium, cobalt, polysilicon, copper - without these and many other resources it would be impossible to make electric car batteries, solar panels or wind turbines. That's why creating technologies that make mining more profitable and minimize the negative impact of humans on nature is one of the most urgent tasks that the industry needs,” the rector of the Mining University said to the young scientists.

Among the goals of sustainable development, proclaimed by the UN, are the universal elimination of hunger and poverty, free access to relatively cheap electricity for everyone, as well as the protection and restoration of ecosystems. That is why the topics of the forum are especially relevant for the representatives of this international organization. And the interest in new ideas to reduce the impact of subsoil users on the environment is very high.

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“The projects that the contestants will describe will give a new impetus to the development of the mining industry,” stressed Jean-Paul Ngomé Abiaga, Advisor to UNESCO’s Director-General for Science, speaking at the opening ceremony. “When we talk about the extraction of natural resources, of course, the environmental aspect must also be taken into account, including the need to preserve biodiversity. The creative impulse emanating from young scientists, their inspiration, is an essential tool that will allow us to ensure sustainable development. This is why I am grateful to the University of Mining and the UNESCO Center of Excellence in Mining Education, based at the St. Petersburg University, for organizing this conference in the current difficult conditions.

Almost all foreign experts take part in it online. However, some of them came to St. Petersburg in person. One of them is Charles Hendry, former Minister of Energy of Great Britain and Chairman of the Board of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce. He assured the contest delegates that they will “definitely change the world” and it will “allow us to achieve our goals.”

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“We need to share ideas and implement them together, despite the difficulties in political relations between states. It is through forums like this that this becomes possible. They make us realize how much we have in common and how much we can give to each other. I’m an optimist; I think we can use our knowledge and achieve sustainability. But we need leaders for that. I see those leaders among you,” Charles Hendry assured the young people.

Peter Moser, Vice-Chancellor of the Leoben University of Mining (Austria), emphasized the need to create a circular economy and to recycle as much of the man-made waste as possible. He called it one of the most serious problems of our time and told about the cooperation of the Austrian and St. Petersburg Mining Universities in this sphere. It takes place at the Center of Competences under the auspices of UNESCO.

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“We need to create innovations to make this cycle, the recycling process, as efficient as possible. In this case, we can not only significantly increase the percentage of waste that is used as secondary raw materials, but also reduce extraction. One of the sections of the contest is devoted to this topic, and as far as I know, there are some very interesting works there. I am sure that they have all chances to be implemented in production,” noted Mr. Moser, assessing the practical importance of the reports submitted to the contest.

The opening ceremony was also attended by Grigory Ordzhonikidze, Executive Secretary of the Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO, Collin Church, Executive Director of the Institute of Materials, Minerals, and Mining (IOM3, UK), Johnny Robinson Zambrano Carranza, Dean of the Department of Oil and Gas Geology at the National Polytechnic School in Ecuador. A written greeting to the delegates was sent by Yevgeny Primakov, head of Rossotrudnichestvo.

Apart from the competition, the program of the forum includes excursions to the enterprises of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region, case championships, lectures of prominent engineers and scientists. Among them are Sergey Serdyukov, ex-technical director of Nord Stream, RF Federation Council expert, Holger Schulz, General Director of CAT distributor Zepellin Rusland, Roman Samsonov, Vice President of Russian Gas Society, and many others. In addition to them, heads of mining and energy companies from Russia and other countries will act as experts who will assess the level of reports. In particular, PhosAgro, Geotech Seismic, and SIBUR. These companies are traditional partners of the “Topical problems of subsoil use” contest.