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Will the research of scientists from St. Petersburg Mining University help to reduce the technogenic load on ecosystems?

Горный университет
© Форпост Северо-Запад / Павел Долганов

Scientists of the Empress Catherine II Saint Petersburg Mining University received a patent for a useful model "Device for excavation of fibrous material with lateral cutting pairs". This event became the next step in their work on creation of innovative materials for surface runoff treatment systems.

As you know, at its first - mechanical stage for capturing suspended solids and petroleum products, various filters are used, usually of artificial origin - mineral wool, polyurethane foam and so on. What to do with these consumables after their service life is over is not quite clear. They cannot be recycled and further used as recyclable materials, so they are usually simply taken to a landfill, thus increasing the already constantly growing anthropogenic load on ecosystems.

At the end of the last century, Alexander Mikhailov, a professor at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Mining University, proposed an effective way of solving this problem. He created an affordable technology that makes it possible to use a filtering material based on fibrous peat for wastewater treatment, i.e. organics, which, after it accumulates oil products, can be utilised, for example, as fuel in coal-fired boilers.

"The condition of water resources in Russia is not improving at a sufficient rate due to the fact that the volume of untreated water entering rivers and lakes, both through municipal sewage systems and from industrial enterprises, is at a consistently high level. For example, in the North-Western Federal District, their share exceeds 20%," says Alexander Mikhailov.

© Форпост Северо-Запад / Павел Долганов

Over the last 25 years, more than 2,100 surface runoff treatment systems have been installed in our country using peat filter materials - porous fibreboards that are manufactured without the use of any other components. These include the Pulkovo-3 business zone, the Kola motorway, a number of petrol stations in St. Petersburg, Veliky Novgorod, Karelia and other regions. These facilities have proved to be the best, their absorption capacity exceeded 90%, which is a very good indicator for the first passive stage of purification.

At the same time, scientists from the Mining University continued to work on innovations in this area. After all, in order to introduce the technology into mass production, it is necessary, at least, to provide the market with the necessary volume of the resource. Otherwise, many consumers will forget about the principles of rational use of natural resources and prefer products of artificial origin.

Another, no less important task is to comply with environmental protection principles in the process of excavating raw materials from the upper layers of peat deposits. Unlike ore deposits, peat deposits are capable of complete regeneration within 2-3 years. But only if special equipment is used for their development, which is able to minimise the disturbance of structural properties of the fibres remaining in the ground. It is just such an "ecosystem-sparing" grapple that scientists from Russia's first technical university patented this year.

"We are now observing in real time a section of the deposit near the Copper Plant, where our device was used to excavate peat raw material. At the moment, self-restoration of the vegetation cover is being observed. This means that we have managed not only to effectively extract fibrous material from the massif, but also to noticeably reduce the impact on its structural characteristics," said Yuri Kazakov, assistant of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Mining University, who, like graduate student Ivan Solovyov, is part of the team of authors of the patent.

© Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash

As explained by Alexander Mikhailov, the head of the scientific group, the whole cycle of innovations developed in the process of creating and popularising peat filtering materials falls into the category of "best available technologies" and arouses genuine interest among businesses. Nothing surprising here, because the presented solutions allow not only to reduce the technogenic impact on the biosphere, which is not everyone's motivation, but also to save significantly.

"Passive surface runoff treatment systems are easy to install and represent a low-cost alternative to the construction of centralised large-scale treatment facilities. Our projects have no analogues in the world practice and are highly competitive in the global market of environmental materials and technologies," the professor is sure.

It should be noted that at the moment the St. Petersburg Mining University continues to work on the implementation of ideas that to a greater or lesser extent relate to this topic. For example, Yuri Kazakov's PhD thesis was devoted to the selection of parameters of a semi-trailer as part of a mining transport unit of multiple passability on weak soils. Its task may include, among other things, the delivery of equipment for the development of peat deposits to hard-to-reach areas, as well as the transportation of extracted raw materials.