The world media broke the sensational news that Washington supports the Kiev regime in connection with the presence of huge deposits of titanium on the territory of Ukraine. It was published by Newsweek magazine. This metal is on the list of 35 resources strategically important to the economy and national security of the United States. It is necessary, including for the creation of military technology: fighter jets, helicopters, tanks and high-precision long-range missiles.
Despite the fact that the U.S. is one of the leaders in titanium processing and consumption, it produces almost no titanium itself; 90% of demand is covered by imports, and for the most part, from unfriendly countries. First of all, from China. According to the US Geological Survey, last year China produced over 230 thousand tons of titanium sponge, which is 57% of the global output. The niche of the other countries is, of course, much smaller. Japan has 17%, Russia has 13%, Kazakhstan has 4.5%, and Ukraine has only 1%. It would seem that what is there to fight for?
But it is not that simple. According to the data of the Institute of Geology of the National Academy of Sciences, in the territory of Ukraine there are gigantic deposits of titanium ores, about 20% of all world reserves. The largest deposit - Selishchansky plot - is situated in Zhytomyr region. How trustworthy is the information printed in one of the most popular American magazines? Forpost addressed this question to the leading expert in the field of fuel and energy complex, the rector of St. Petersburg Mining University Vladimir Litvinenko.
- Vladimir Stefanovich, can the persistence with which Washington supports the Zelensky regime be explained by the growing need of the U.S. for titanium? After all, the main importer of this strategically important raw material to the United States is China, which the Pentagon declared a strategic rival several years ago.
Vladimir Litvinenko: If you look back at where armed conflicts took place over the last quarter century, you will realize that all of them are somehow or other connected with the struggle for resources. For example, in 2003, the U.S. was not yet a net oil exporter and badly needed to import oil from abroad on a regular basis. Against the background of a certain cooling of relations with Saudi Arabia, they urgently needed to get guarantees of the continuity of such supplies. That is why the legend of Saddam Hussein's alleged possession of chemical weapons was invented as a pretext for the invasion of Iraq. Naturally, no strain of anthrax was found there, but the whole resource base of the country was controlled by the Americans. If we talk about oil, then now the production there is more than 4 million barrels a day.
Then there was Syria, Libya, sanctions against Iran and Venezuela, all links in the same chain. But the world is changing. Today, the world's first economy and its satellites need not only hydrocarbons, although the need for them is not becoming less, but only growing. The demand for copper, nickel, the same titanium, rare-earth metals is also increasing. Last year their transit to the EU from China through Russia doubled. These are colossal volumes - about 50 thousand tons.
The mineral and raw material complex is the skeleton of any global economy, its foundation. According to the experts of the International Resource Group, we are totally dependent on minerals for all our welfare needs. This is why the so-called collective West has for many decades sought to do everything possible to control all the world's resources at the expense of weakening the states in whose bowels they lie. As a result, a large part of the countries with the richest raw material base are at a low level of development, while the post-industrial powers continue to develop at the expense of monetization of their natural capital.
The conclusion suggests itself: we must do everything possible to preserve our sovereignty and create conditions under which we can independently and most effectively convert our natural capital into human, social and physical capital.
- And what are these conditions?
Vladimir Litvinenko: First of all, we must categorically avoid returning to concession agreements in whatever form they are imposed on us. Such contracts between the state and subsoil users which were actively concluded in the 90s were to a large extent the cause of mass impoverishment of Russians and the hyperinflation that raged in our country at the time.
Unfortunately, many African, Asian and Latin American countries have not taken into account Russia's negative experience and continue to cooperate with Western transnational corporations in this very format. That is, they give them the deposits on the condition that all engineering works there will be carried out by American or European specialists, receiving in exchange a considerable part of the extracted raw materials. At the same time, international financial institutions, also controlled by Washington or Brussels, are dragging those countries into debt, offering loans ostensibly for the development of their economies. As a result, up to 80% of the proceeds from the sale of that part of the natural capital, which becomes the property of these countries, is spent on repayment of debts to the global oligarchy and payment of interest on them. This conjuncture contributes to a slowdown of the socio-economic progress of developing countries, or even their recession. But that's exactly how it's meant to be - that's the essence of the neocolonial policy of the West, the ultimate goal of which is to control the global market of capital and resources.
By the way, concessions lead to another colossal problem: the lack of engineering personnel. After all, foreign companies practically do not hire local specialists. It was the same in Russia. In the '90s and early '90s the West tried to convince us that we do not need to train domestic engineers or have our own technology. Don't worry, we will do everything for you. As a result, all the colossal scientific reserve that was created under the Soviet Union was practically squandered.
We are trapped in the Bologna process: in the country, which due to unprecedented sanctions has to do everything possible to achieve its technological sovereignty, the quality of school and vocational education, to put it mildly, is not at the highest level. Today's universities admit young people who have never held a test tube in their hands and have no idea that hydrogen, for example, burns at much higher temperatures than methane. This means that it cannot be used as a raw material in the gas turbine cycle of CHPPs, because the limits of the technological capabilities of the existing generation systems will be significantly exceeded in this case. In other words, their functioning and the safety of their employees would be threatened.
The younger generation's lack of elementary, basic knowledge allows Western ideologues, through social networks, to impose ephemeral problems on them. Such as the need to use hydrogen as an energy resource or the urgent cessation of extraction of fossil fuels, because their combustion has a negative impact on the environment. And our young people, instead of thinking about the creation, the development of Russia, the construction of as many full value-added chains as possible, capable of providing the entire production cycle - from the extraction of raw materials to the production of final consumption goods, live with the belief that hydrocarbons are "cave fuel. "A dead horse," from which it is long overdue to get off.
But the West itself is not about to get off it. Consumption there is growing and multinational companies headquartered in Paris, Oslo, The Hague, London, Hamburg, Texas continue to produce oil and gas around the world, keeping the main rent from this activity. That is, talk about climate change and the relevance of as intensive an energy transition as possible are going on as if in a parallel reality. But it is this virtual reality through network systems that transforms the minds of yesterday's Russian schoolchildren. They believe that we can and should be an ordinary Western state - to exist based on the service sector and digital technology.
Unfortunately or fortunately, this is impossible. Our competitive advantage is different, because we have the richest raw material base and intellectual potential. Besides, we have a huge country, most of whose territory is in the permafrost zone. This means that the task of the central government is not only to provide the population with food and clothing, but also to protect it from external and internal threats. Equally important is the guarantee that the batteries in the houses, when there are twenty- or thirty-degree frosts outside for several months in a row, will be hot. Neither wind generators, nor solar panels, nor widespread electrification will solve this problem.
- What about hydrogen?
Vladimir Litvinenko: At this stage of scientific and technological development, mankind can obtain electrical energy from hydrogen exclusively with the help of the so-called fuel cells, i.e. the electrochemical method. At the prototype level, as everyone knows, not only cars or buses, but even trains that run on the lightest gas in nature, have long been created. There is nothing new or breakthrough in this; the first hydrogen-powered car rode around Leningrad back in 1941. That is why the prototypes are not turning into serial products - their operation is still many times more expensive than analogues that run on electricity or methane.
However, if we talk about the global fuel and energy balance, this is not so important. The share of electric power generated by the electrochemical method is negligible - about 0.2%. If we talk about the work of cogeneration plants, electricity there is generated by steam, which is produced during the combustion of fuel and rotates the shaft of an electric generator. As I said above, it is not possible to use hydrogen for this purpose. First of all, its combustion temperature is 2800 degrees, and the temperature of methane is a third lower. Secondly, it is the lightest element in the universe, its atom can penetrate the crystal lattice of any steel and destroy it in a relatively short time. It is difficult to imagine how much it would cost to create from scratch an infrastructure capable of ensuring the hermetic storage of H2.
- Many people today really take the talk about the brilliant prospects of hydrogen at face value. And they expect it to soon become some kind of golden mean between energy security and zeroing out the anthropogenic burden on nature. But, if not hydrogen, then what?
Vladimir Litvinenko: I have no doubt that alternative energy sources with minimal carbon footprint have a great future. Not only wind turbines and solar panels, but also hydroelectric power plants, nuclear power plants, geothermal energy. But in the next decades, and the forecasts of the world's leading experts confirm this, hydrocarbons will remain the basis of the global energy balance. Their advantages - high energy density and the ability to increase the amount of electricity supplied to the grid during peak hours - are simply indisputable. At the same time, of course, we must create the conditions for the mass implementation of innovative technologies at traditional energy facilities, which will help to reduce their negative impact on the biosphere. And here the role of the government is hard to overestimate.
The government must become the decision-making center for regulating the mineral, fuel, and energy sectors. It must set specific tasks for business, create the conditions for their fulfillment through tax incentives, low-interest loans, and other mechanisms, and monitor their implementation. Of course, this applies not only to environmental measures, but also to the activities of mining and oil and gas companies as a whole. The volume of production of raw materials, the percentage of its involvement in advanced processing, replenishment of the resource base, the creation of new jobs, the number of young professionals that engineering universities must graduate annually, the development of the regions where corporations are present - all these and many other issues should be subject to state regulation.
More than three hundred years ago, Peter the Great created the Berg Collegium for this very purpose. It became "a single judge of all... who searches, digs, smelts, cooks... all kinds of metals". It guaranteed that "whoever discovers new metals and minerals... and wants to build a factory will be given money for construction from the board, depending on the kindness of the ore". This is an extract from the fundamental document signed by the emperor on December 10, 1719. What about today? In order to implement a project its inspirer ideologically needs to collect signatures of almost eight ministers. What kind of a man's self-control is required to approve a new business, which is necessary not only for him, but also for the state.
As for geological exploration, this industry is simply lying in ruins. Resources are reproduced mainly at the expense of additional exploration of the flanks of the fields, discovered during the Soviet times, and recalculation of their reserves. The management of companies is not interested in searching for new deposits, since no conditions have been created in the country in which oil companies would be guaranteed the right to subsoil use or monetary compensation for the money spent during exploration.
No deep wells are drilled in Russia today. Although the hypothesis of the inorganic origin of oil - that is, its formation at great depths in conditions of enormous pressure and high temperatures from carbon and hydrogen - has received dozens of indisputable experimental confirmations. This means that geologists can find new deposits not only above the Arctic Circle, in remote areas, where it is necessary to build all the necessary infrastructure from scratch, but also, for example, in Western Siberia. After all, at the time of the USSR oil was sought at a depth of only a few kilometers and it is very likely that with the help of modern geophysical equipment we will be able to discover deposits close to existing settlements, which will make the cost of a barrel extracted there much lower.
Of course, in order to implement these kinds of projects, we need to revive government regulation, while leaving the function of an employer to private companies. We must abandon neoliberal ideology and the associated stereotypes and illusions that are thrust upon us from outside. Forget forever the mantra that the state should not interfere in business affairs. After all, it has long been obvious: if your state will not do it, someone else's will.