Mining University Scientists Developed Chemicals Preventing Cargo from Freezing
Russian Railways has already become interested in the new preventive trains because the problem of efficient transportation of coal, crushed rock, iron ore, and other raw materials during the winter period has not yet been fully solved. Quite often the material that first got caught in the rain, for example, and then was transported in sub-zero temperatures, freezes to the walls of the wagons, or even turns into a monolith.
If this happens, then at the point of mechanized unloading the goods are not fully emptied, which inevitably leads to the need to use manual labour, downtime, and penalties to the shippers. It is they who are obliged to take all possible measures to avoid such a development. But how can this be done?
When transporting cargo over long distances and there is a high probability of significant temperature difference, the client can install special heating devices and mechanical openers at the receiving point. The first ones warm up the cargo and the second ones give it its original flowability. However, much more often producers resort to such proven methods as treatment of products that are sent to another region with various chemical compounds. The most common is calcium chloride.
This salt does reduce freezing, but first, it does not always have the expected effect, and second, it is not safe for the environment. Its use also leads to the appearance of rust on the cars and, if we are talking about coal, reduces its caloric value, that is, makes it of lower quality. That is why suppliers have recently been forced to use more expensive, but also more productive reagents, on the development of which many scientific teams are working all over the world.
Of course, the technology itself is not new. Back in the seventies and eighties, Natalya Kondrasheva, the current head of the Department of Chemical Technologies and Processing of Energy Carriers at St. Petersburg Mining University, was developing it together with a group of scientists from the Ufa Oil Institute and the Research Institute of Open Pit Mining.
“These preventive agents were highly appreciated by the expert community and were widely used at many mining and processing plants in Bashkiria. But then, due to the economic crisis of the 90s, this work was stopped. Now we have not only revived the technology but also brought it to a qualitatively new level. We have managed to create under the guidance of Natalya Kondrasheva more perfect and environmentally friendly compositions for combating freezing, freezing, and sticking of wet rocks - coal, coke, or iron ore,” said Elizaveta Kireyeva, assistant professor of chemical technologies and energy processing at the Mining University.
The University has already received four patents for the improved solutions, which allow to significantly increase the efficiency of cargo transportation. For example, their use is now allowed at -55°C, although previously this figure was much lower - only -27°C. At the same time, the flashpoint,i.e., the lowest point at which vapours above the surface of the substance can be ignited in the air in the event of external exposure, rose from 80 to 110°C.
New prophylactics not only passed all stages of laboratory tests but also managed to show their best side in operation at two coal mines in the Irkutsk region. Thanks to their use the cases of freezing there reduced by 90%, and we are talking about areas where in winter the air temperature goes down to -40 - -45º.
"Such positive results were achieved due to the depressant effect achieved by the asphaltene components of heavy oil residues. In the fall, we plan to conduct joint tests with the Innovation Center of Russian Railways: to send cargo treated with our preventive lubricants from St. Petersburg, where temperatures will still be positive by then, to the north, to the Komi Republic. In my opinion, this area of cooperation between Mining University and railroad workers is extremely promising,” said Elizaveta Kireyeva.
There is no doubt that the demand for such reagents will increase. After all, the volume of freight traffic on the domestic railways, despite the drop in last year’s figures by 2.7% (to 1.2 billion tons) will also continue to grow. This also applies to coal - one of the industries most affected by the pandemic. Its transportation in 2020 dropped by 5% at once, to 353 million tons, but now the situation has become different.
For example, the Kemerovo Region’s mining companies produced 117.3 million tons of coal in the first half of the year, which is 8.7% more than during the same period in 2020. Raw material production is also growing in Yakutia, where Russia's largest deposit, the Elga deposit, is located. This is understandable, because the demand for the resource, despite the green agenda, continues to grow. Moreover, according to the forecasts of the International Energy Agency, this trend will last until 2040. That is, fossil fuels, including coal, will be the basis of the global fuel and energy complex for at least the next 20-30 years.
Crushed stone, which in winter also needs to be treated with preventive mixtures, and at the end of last year showed a positive trend, as well as other construction cargo. The volumes of their transportation increased by 6.1% and reached 131.6 mln tons. It was detritus that “backed up” the segment of gondola cars, which became much less in demand due to the fall in coal production.
Environmental legislation and transportation quality requirements will continue to tighten. This means that the production of chemicals preventing the freezing of cargo will not only become a sought-after business, but it is likely to take on an industrial scale.