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Chelyabinsk initiates a revolution in the construction industry

Chelyabinsk initiates a revolution in the construction industry

24.08.2012 — Analysis

The Ministry of Industry and Natural Resources of the Chelyabinsk Region offered energy generating companies operating in the region to start manufacturing building materials. The preparation of the special-purpose program for 2013-2015 has been commenced to accomplish this challenging objective. Experts say that the project looks highly lucrative from a commercial perspective, but, as the RusBusinessNews columnist has found it out, its implementation requires profound changes in the federal legislation.

According to the data from the Ministry of Industry and Natural Resources, the amount of industrial waste within the area of the Chelyabinsk Region exceeds 3 billion tons. The main sources of waste products are metallurgical and machine-building plants, electric power pants and quarries that keep on polluting the area.

At present, about one half of the newly generated waste is being recycled, including, first of all, blast-furnace slags that are used to recover entrained metals. However, it does not mitigate the problem: The primary processing leaves behind many thousands of tons of slag crushed stone and sand. In most countries they have been used for a long time in tile, curb stone, and slag wool production as well as in manufacturing cement additives, glass-ceramic products, concrete fillers, etc. In Russia, no one cares about looking seriously into slag recycling business.

The situation with processing of ash and slag waste is especially distressing. Nearly all of the European coal-fired power plants use dry fly ash handling systems. Dry ash is used in manufacturing of bricks, concrete mixes, etc. In the Chelyabinsk Region, only the Troitskaya GRES (OGK-2) uses the system of dry ash removal. The other power plants stick to the wet disposal of fly ash, and none of them intends to veer away from it. According to Leonid Yenov, head of the Department for Industrial Sector Development at the regional Ministry of Industry, the technology switchover will cost at least 1 billion rubles, which is too costly for generating companies. Therefore, they are not interested in ash and slag waste recycling: Landfill sites are sprawling, contaminated water penetrates into surface water bodies and subsurface water flows.

The regional government decided to turn the tide and masterminded a program targeted at industrial waste recycling. The campaign involved employees of design institutions, major manufacturers, owners of slag landfill sites. The business community was introduced to advanced waste recycling technologies adopted in industrialized countries and was recommended to use slags in the road building sector.

The Ministry of Industry and Natural Resources of the Chelyabinsk Region is sure that ash and slag waste can be seen as an alternative to extraction of minerals (natural crushed stone and sand). For example, the ash at the Troitskaya GRES meets the radiation safety standards and can be used in industry for manufacturing of foamed concrete and construction mortars, dry building mixes, foam concrete products, and sand-lime brick as well as an active mineral admixture in cement production and in road building.

The world experience in industrial waste processing is enormous. For example, in Poland, coal dust mixture is used as feedstock in production of cement; in Ukraine coke by-products are added instead of clay to reduce costs of cement clinker burning. Russia can also boast a number of technologies for using industrial after-products. VNIIstroy (the Russian National Research Institute for Construction) offered non-waste technology of facing brick production based on fly ash; the Moscow State Construction University offered the project of heat-resistant silica fume and slag concrete; Steklozit, a Samara-based company, invented technology of manufacturing porous aggregate from slag and fly ash; the Ural Institute of Metals opened doors to granulated slag for high-performance concrete. There are many other technologies based on industrial after-products.

According to the Ministry of Industry of the Chelyabinsk Region, the construction industry can operate by using recycled products for ages. However, since Russia has no problem using natural resources, it has neither technogenic waste management nor efficient recycling process control systems. Such systems are useless without complete, accurate and timely information about waste products, starting from their production and finishing with their disposal or recycling. Today, such information is fragmented, departmentally split, highly specialized, inaccessible and frequently controversial.

The experts state that the Russian cement industry ignores international practices and is moving in the opposite direction. According to the data from Yakov Shkolnik, a research associate of the Bardin Central Research Institute of Ferrous Metallurgy, the output of Portland blast-furnace slag cement has decreased five times in Russia since 1990, accounting only for 5% of the total output. In the meantime, over the same period European companies have increased the output of cements with active mineral admixtures from industrial after-products from 36 to 95%. The studies have shown that non-traditional materials help to reduce energy and tangible costs by 30% in production of concrete and concrete products.

Ya. Shkolnik believes that Russian building companies would willingly agree to use materials based on industrial after-products, but no one offers such materials. The main reason is that business is not interested in recycling of waste products. The expert thinks that companies should be incentivized through penalties for waste removal to landfill sites.

The authorities of the Chelyabinsk Region realize that the problem of industrial waste recycling can be driven from the deadlock only when it is addressed nationwide. In their opinion, there must be the unified state policy that will stimulate commercialization of industrial waste products. The regulatory and legal framework needs special attention. Building companies will buy concrete of higher quality and at a lower price only if it has the adequate certificate. Certification is impossible without changes in the regulatory framework that sets requirements to raw materials used in production of construction materials. To change the legislation at the federal level is an extremely difficult task. Leonid Yenov notes that the deeper the Ministry of Industry and Natural Resources digs into the issues of industrial waste recycling, the more clearly it can realize the enormousness of the forthcoming work.

The process has started. Tatiana Kuznetsova, head of the Construction Department of the Ministry of Constriction, Infrastructure and Public Roads of the Chelyabinsk Region, has informed RusBusinessNews that by the end of 2012 the Chelyabinsk and Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Integrated Plants will have two cement factories built at their sites; the total annual output is estimated at 3.2 million tons, and raw materials will be taken from slag dumps. The results of strength and frost resistance tests of pilot samples of new products were encouraging. Tatiana Kuznetsova thinks that implementation of these projects will change fundamentally the attitude of manufacturers to the new sources of raw materials.

Vladimir Terletsky

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