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Jun 3, 2022
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Even air was exported to the West from Russia as a raw material

Even air was exported to the West from Russia as a raw material

Photo: Donat Sorokin/TASS

Due to the Russian ban on the export of inert gases, including neon, advertising signs in the cities of Western countries, of course, will not go out at all. In the West, many prudently pumped raw materials brought from Russia for a penny for the production of “noble” gases into underground storage facilities. But this ban can still seriously affect the course of the sanctions war against the technology sector in Russia, launched by the United States and other Western countries.

“Russia has decided to remind unfriendly countries of their import dependence. Now the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade will determine who will have access to neon, krypton, xenon – key and critical gases for the production of semiconductors, more than 30% of which in the world market are in our country, ”a source in the financial and economic block of the government told Izvestia .

It is assumed that the restriction on the export of inert gases will strengthen Russia’s position in the world microelectronics market. Here our country has a particularly vulnerable spot. The situation worsened when, shortly after the start of a military special operation in Ukraine, the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer, the Taiwanese company TSMC, refused to cooperate with Russia. The production of Russian processors “Baikal” and “Elbrus” at the factories of the Taiwanese TSMC was completely stopped. The Russian program of import substitution in the field of IT was under attack.

And in response to Russia’s ban on the export of inert gases, which are used in the production of semiconductors, the Ministry of Economy of Taiwan banned the supply of certain types of “strategic high-tech goods” to Russia and Belarus. We are talking, among other things, about chips with a clock frequency of over 25 megahertz and microcircuits with more than 144 contacts.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation reacted calmly to this, since the Taiwanese simply “formalized” the ongoing process.

“But besides IT, there are other important areas in our country that need the production and use of these “noble” gases,” believes director of the plant for the production of inert gases Akela-N, chemist Vladimir Potapov:

“Therefore, at first we should ask ourselves this question: “Is there a market for neon in Russia?” I will tell you that it is not in Russia. All the raw materials that were produced at metallurgical plants, at oxygen plants – this is a neon-helium mixture for producing neon, including pure neon – everything was exported abroad. The market is there for neon. For example, the United States uses neon for transformers as a gas with high electrical permeability. And by the way, we use oil for this. Therefore, they never experience environmental disasters in this regard: if the transformer, for example, leaks, gas will come out, they will fill it with another one, no problems, since the oil does not leak out, it does not burn. I also took advertising on signs, then they started making chips in Thailand etc., etc.

Russia has never supplied 30% of the world’s neon production. Never. Our country simply did not produce so much. Raw materials for production – yes, but they were exported abroad.

Second moment. The neon market in Russia today, according to the most conservative estimates, is perhaps 350 cubic meters. World consumption is about 500 thousand cubic meters. That is, thousands of times more. Nobody will feel the damage. They will simply stop stealing raw materials from us and exporting them abroad. Previously, people interested in developing the industry of other countries received this raw material from Russian enterprises and sold it there, making money from it. Now they will throw raw materials into the air.

“SP”: – But your plant consumes this raw material, produces inert gases, sells them somewhere. Will they just re-enter the atmosphere all over the country?

– No, why not. We started our activity in Russia in 1990, that is, we have been on the world market of inert gases for 32 years. And almost 100% of their products – both krypton and xenon – were exported abroad. However, at the same time, 25 years ago we began to develop our domestic market for the use of inert gases. In particular, today a market for medical xenon has been created in Russia. Medicinal products were registered 22 years ago – medical xenon for inhalation. Two years ago, a new xenon-oxygen drug was registered for the relief of cancer pain. This is a very interesting gas, it is used not only in rocket technology for the operation of sustainer engines, but has also been developed in the medical field, where it is supplied in a very pure form, with a purity of “six nines” (informal logarithmic designation of proportions – ed.).

As for krypton, it is also undergoing clinical trials now, it has shown itself very interestingly in rehabilitation after covid diseases, post-covid recovery. Therefore, clinical trials are now underway, and I do not see any problems with the implementation of krypton and xenon on the domestic market. It is good that such a government decree has been issued – raw materials should not go abroad.

Now the situation is such that 80%-90% of enterprises producing krypton and xenon mixtures, neon-helium mixtures are owned by foreign companies – French, German and American. Everything that was produced there belonged to them, and they took it to their place and processed it there. Sometimes they asked us to recycle and return them as pure products.

Now, I hope, justice will be restored and, finally, the Russian market will begin to fill up with raw materials. Because until the last moment the ball here was ruled by Ukraine. Surprisingly. This is the Ingas company, which received gratitude from the nationalist battalions for financial support. And Ingas, in turn, was supported by an American company that gave money to purchase raw materials. And they simply choked us at prices, we could not buy raw materials, the cost of which exceeded the cost of final products.

“SP”: – But now Ukraine has stopped the production and supply of neon and other rare gases to the world market. Will the competition get easier?

– Yes, there is no special competition. You understand, China can already provide all the needs. Since the Chinese developed their own cryogenic technology, they developed a market for cryogenic gases. Russia and Ukraine have traditionally been suppliers of raw materials. Well, what to do if such a position that people do not want to do this? It’s easier to take raw materials and transport them, sell them, you don’t need to process them, but you can earn something from it.

“SP”: – How are inert gases produced?

– A very complex process, multi-stage. Everything we need is in the air we breathe. If there is 21% oxygen in the air, then, for example, the xenon content is very small – 0.000008% by volume. Therefore, there are special technologies tied to the production of oxygen. Oxygen is obtained in huge quantities mainly at metallurgical plants to ensure blast-furnace production. But in liquid oxygen in the form of the smallest ice floes and grains – xenon, krypton etc.

Russia today, in my opinion, is the absolute leader in obtaining ultra-pure products in this area, mainly for medicine. The necessary technologies in Russia, I repeat, are there. The question is whether it is expedient to produce inert gases.

“SP”: – And the European Union and the United States will feel a “prick” from the restriction of the export of inert gases from Russia? Or was our share too small for that?

“We didn’t have a small share, we had a share that was negligible in value. I mean our raw material compared to the US raw material. They pumped their raw materials as a strategic product into underground storages, saved the neo-helium mixture for themselves, since they do not have their own huge oxygen production. Domain production in metallurgy remained only in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

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