Investment Portal of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation

Sulphur Project: Environmental Revolution in Taymyr

Air Purification in Norilsk

14 august 2023

The first phase of the Sulphur Project in Taymyr initiated by the industrial behemoth Norilsk Nickel will start in 2023. Currently, one of largest corporations in Russia is poised to drastically cut sulphur dioxide emissions. Soon, the level of SO2 in Taimyr's air will be reduced by 45% compared to 2015, with a long-term goal of achieving a 90% reduction.

Norilsk was established in 1935, and its first metallurgical operation, the Norilsk Nickel Combine, began functioning in 1939. During that era, industrial powerhouses like the USSR, USA, Great Britain, Germany, France and others had only a vague understanding of the environmental repercussions of large-scale enterprises. The primary focus was on production and its efficiency, as well as the quantity of goods manufactured. The Soviet poster from the 1930s that proclaimed ‘The smoke from chimneys is the breath of Soviet Russia’ clearly reflects the public's attention and the state objectives at that time. Nowadays, advancements in science and the rise of ecology as a distinct discipline demonstrate what ‘the breath of chimneys’ truly entails, leading major industrial hubs to gradually adapt and adjust to this reality.

However, sulphur dioxide is an unwelcome byproduct of the copper smelting industry. In nature, it is produced through volcanic activity. We also encountered it countless times in our daily lives. The smoke from matches, the burning of sulphur-rich fuels and coal at power plants are one of the sources of SO2. This gas is deemed toxic, but only when present in large concentrations. It is widely used as a preservative in the food industry for wine and dried fruits, as a bleaching agent for clothing and paper, as a refrigerant and in numerous other applications. Nevertheless, sulphur dioxide is identified as one of the primary pollutants of the atmosphere, hence the necessity to curb its emissions. For Norilsk, situated next to a massive metallurgical complex, the matter of SO2 purification is far from trivial. The gas significantly diminishes the residents' quality of life, even though it doesn't result in catastrophic outcomes. Indeed, this city had to endure a bit of a wait.

The initial stage of the Sulphur Program was finalised on the Kola Peninsula in 2021. In Monchegorsk, a city in the Murmansk Region, Norilsk Nickel ceased operations of the metallurgical workshop of the Kola Mining and Metallurgical Company, which, coupled with the halt of smelting processes in the nearby town of Nickel, led to an 85% reduction in emissions. Rather than processing the concentrate on-site, the raw material is now transported to Norilsk to the company's primary industrial facility. A colossal factory for producing gypsum from sulphur dioxide has already been established there. Gases rich in SO2 are initially captured and subsequently subjected to wet gas scrubbing. This results in sulphuric acid, which is then stored in tanks. Add some lime milk and we've got gypsum. It is entirely harmless from an environmental standpoint, can be stored indefinitely and used in production.

While the technology for neutralising sulfur dioxide has been known for a while, the implementation of Nornickel's project necessitated the construction of a distinct industrial site. As stated by Mikhail Bugayev, the chief manager of the Sulphur Project, they anticipate neutralising around 2.4 million tons of sulphuric acid annually.

The management had to tackle a broad range of issues, including the transportation of operational units. For instance, 15 heat exchangers weighing between 130 and 230 tons had to be shipped via the Northern Sea Route to Dudinka and then to the Nadezhda Metallurgical Plant. To ensure timely start of production, a new workforce was recruited and trained according to the latest standards, including occupational safety norms. Simultaneously, the company had to establish new production capacities from the ground up and also swiftly adapt to the shifting global conditions. Sanctions necessitated changes to the initial equipment procurement plans, leading to the requirement for import substitution of numerous technologies. Nornickel placed its bets on enterprises in the Krasnoyarsk Region and came out victorious. The project is on schedule, and collaboration with local manufacturers has surged from 21 billion rubles in 2021 to 50 billion rubles in 2022.

Besides the Sulphur Program, Norilsk Nickel is a key participant in the Norilsk Socio-Economic Development Project, an extensive initiative to revamp the Polar industrial capital. Following his recent visit to the northern Krasnoyarsk Territory, Government Head Mikhail Mishustin expressed his pleasant surprise at the development pace and successful execution of planned programs in Norilsk.

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