Generals of petrochemistry argue about relevance of new polymer production in Tatarstan

“It is important to choose the right course because mistakes in large-capacity production are fraught with prooblems," the president responded to the controversial new project for the conversion of benzene

The participants of the board of directors of Tatneftekhiminvest-holding discussed on 24 December whether the production of “Polyamide 66" will be or not in Tatarstan. “Now building such plant is like putting a cart before the horse, since there is no confirmed demand for such volumes," Timur Shagivaleev, the director general of Alabuga SEZ, criticised the idea of one of his residents, emphasising the lack of solid financial support. He argued that such projects should be stimulated by the state through the reverse excise tax on LPG, and not otherwise. Which projects were supported by the president of the Republic of Tatarstan, and which remained in pause mode — read in the report of Realnoe Vremya.

Will Polyamide 66 “succeed” on Tatar benzene?

The final meeting of the board of directors of Tatneftekhiminvest-holding this year has been marked by a sharp discussion around the processing of scarce ethane/ethylene in the petrochemical complex. Irreconcilable judgments among the “generals” of big businesses were caused by an innocent, at first glance, project for the production of polymer with the intriguing name “Polyamide 66".

The company from Moscow, KamGeoTex PLC, which is a resident of Alabuga SEZ (the company entered there five years ago, but the project has not been implemented yet), offered to organize low-tonnage production of this complex polymer at facilities in the republic. Vladimir Smirnov, the deputy director general of the company, presented the general concept of the project.

First of all, he explained how strategically important the new polymer is for the country. According to him, on the instructions of the ministry of defence of Russia this year, the first attempt was made to manufacture thermal kits for the needs of the Russian army. Prototypes made of the new polymer have passed the test, he said. But for their mass introduction into production, it is necessary to have domestic material, since it is forbidden to use foreign raw materials in the manufacture of products for the military. The main raw material for the polymer is benzene, which is in shortage in the country.

Thermal kits for the military

“The need of the military is estimated at 1 million units of kits, 80,000 a month, but so far there are only 5,000," Vladimir Smirnov said, making it clear that the first samples were produced from imported polymer. “These thermal kits have unique properties. They deserve a high assessment of the ministry of defence of Russia, and the material itself is of great interest," he praised the products.

The market environment for launching the production of the new polymer is favourable, he noted. According to his calculations, only 6 million tonnes of this polymer are produced in the world. The greatest demand for it is in the automotive industry and aviation, as impact-resistant polymer structures are created on the basis of basic brands.

According to the company's estimates, the demand for the product is expected to grow twofold by 2027. The volume of imports to Russia of these brands is approximately 1,000 tonnes a year (not produced in Russia). The export price per tonne is 2,500-3,200 euros, Smirnov continued. Then he addressed the president with a proposal to give instructions on the preparation of a feasibility study for the creation of a production of Polyamide 66 in Tatarstan. The amount of investment was not mentioned.

How to distribute benzene

Smirnov was supported by the director general of Tatneftekhiminvest-holding, Rafinat Yarullin. “Now every tonne of benzene is looked for around the world. Especially those who make Polyamide 66," he said. “To make PA-66 means to enter a new stage of development, it means thousands of jobs, and the products will create new production facilities," he urged the president of Tatarstan. According to him, meetings were held in the ministry of industry and trade of the republic on the opening of the project, there are opportunities for support in the form of subsidies. Besides, the management of Promsvyazbank is ready to consider the project for the future, he assured.

The raw material source for launching the project can be the ethylene plant of Nizhnekamskneftekhim, where 200,000 tonnes of benzene are available, and the capacities of Tatneft, where it is possible to get up to 50,000 tonnes of benzene. Where to direct it right? “The product is new, we need to probe the prospects of this market," Minnikhanov said.

If a factory is needed, then there should be a reverse excise tax

However, a spark of doubt still flared up during the discussion. Timur Shagivaleev, the director general of Alabuga SEZ, requested to take the floor. “Now building the Polyamide 66 plant is like putting a cart before the horse, as there is no confirmed demand for such volumes," he said bluntly.

According to him, if the ministry of defence is interested in building such plant, then we should expect decisive actions from it. “They have to do one thing: make a long-term paid order, under which ABB (Ak Bars Bank — editor's note) or PSB (Promsvyazbank — editor's note) can lay a financial model," he argued.

On the other hand, such plant could be built by the European petrochemical giant BASF itself, through which polymer is imported to Russia. “Why doesn't BASF itself build a plant in Alabuga if they supply raw materials?" he wondered.

However, Shagivaleev's main argument was that the state should encourage such projects through tax instruments in a good way. As the main method, he called the reverse excise tax on LPG, which is paid to the petrochemical companies of SIBUR for processing ethylene into the necessary processing stages.

“If the state wants, it will say: 'I want Polyamide 66 and will be ready to pay extra... Then TAIF and Tatneft will make this project very quickly. Because it will provide guaranteed sales. And even sweeten the pill," explained the director general of the SEZ.

The head of the Kazan National Research Technological University, Yury Kazakov, agreed with him. “We watched the presentation, received a letter from the ministry of industry and trade, watched the redistribution of PA-66. Perhaps, there are not the most marginal repartitions, but this topic should be analysed, we are ready to connect to this topic," he found a compromise solution.

The president of Tatarstan drew a line. According to him, when choosing repartitions, it is necessary to choose a verified direction. “When there is a large-scale production, then mistakes are fraught with problems. It is necessary to go carefully to one or another segment," the head of the republic concluded.

Microgranules — for the service of Tatneft

But the project on the use of microreactors in the development of low-tonnage chemistry was supported smoothly and without disagreements. It was presented by the director general of RZMT JSC, the subsidiary of Rostec, Yury Zozulya.

For the first time the project was announced in the republic seven years ago at the earliest stage of its origin, and today the developers of know-how have shown the possibilities of practical application.

The essence of the development is to build micro-reactors, or, as Yury Zozulya said, “a small chemical plant” that could replace large reactors in low-tonnage industries. As an example of the transition, he cited the company DSM, which changed the 10-liter reactor to a miniature capacity of 3 liters without compromising performance.

Microfluidic technology works at the level of microchip, and the plant itself operates on the basis of matrix. According to Zozuli, the flows in microreactors operate in micron channels up to 4 mm. It is easy to guess that the output is microgranules. In fact, this is the advantage — the mixing zone of dangerous chemicals is almost like in a test tube and does not pose a threat.

The reaction rate for these microfluidic technologies is a few minutes. The technology of microreactor synthesis is easily integrated into “big chemistry”: traditional chemical processes, biosynthesis are available to it. The volume of production is 1 cubic metre per hour, or 8,000 cubic metres per year.

The speaker suggested that Tatarstan consider the possibility of producing microfluidic proppants, which is aimed at increasing oil production of reservoirs. Modular micro-installations are capable of producing 200 tonnes a year. The second possible product is methionines (amino acids for poultry feeding) for agriculture. The plant for 50,000 will cost 30 million euros, which is three times cheaper than traditional technologies.

Implementing together with science

“How can we 'land' these technologies?" the president asked. “With your sleeves rolled up, you have to work," Rafinat Yarullin was inspired. “There are a lot of areas of application — it is necessary to conclude agreements. Kazan Federal University, Kazan State Technological University," he indicated the point of application of effort. The president agreed with him.

He recommended that TAIF and Tatneft take a close look at these technologies, as low-tonnage chemicals are at a low level. “Let's try to 'land' ideas together with science. If you can earn money somewhere, then why not," the president reasoned.

Patfil company, a resident of the Kazan technopolis Khimgrad, presented developments in the field of aeration systems. The director general of the company, Andrey Mikhaylov, spoke about the AQUA-TOR and AQUA-PLAST systems for oxygen saturation of sewage. The president recommended that the ministry of construction adopt them.

Another resident of Khimgrad — Energoproekt-Engineering PLC — presented the software and hardware complexes Tatintes, Sura and Siemens, which automate the operation of fuel and energy facilities and utilities, and also received the go-ahead.

By Luiza Ignatyeva