Haldor Topsoe: ''This project is strategically very important for Tatarstan, that is why we are anxious to be part of it''

Bjerne S. Clausen, the Chief Executive Officer and President of Haldor Topsoe: about the construction of the new methanol production facility for Nizhnekamskneftekhim

The Danish company Haldor Topsoe is entering into cooperation with Nizhnekamskneftekhim (NKNH): the parties have signed contracts for the provision of licenses and engineering services for the technology of new methanol production with a capacity of 500,000 tonnes a year. Thanks to the project, NKNH will no longer need to purchase methanol, which will reduce the cost of isoprene rubber production. The project implementation takes 32 months, the site for the production has already been determined. What other projects Haldor Topsoe is planning to implement with TAIF, whether the world will switch to biodegradable plastic, and what is the relationship between population growth and the market of chemical fertilizers – Haldor Topsoe's President Bjerne S. Clausen told Realnoe Vremya online newspaper.

''We are confident that it will be a success''

You have been working in Russia and Tatarstan in particular for a long time, and you have a number of successful projects. With what mood are you entering into the project with Nizhnekamskneftekhim?

This project is strategically very important for Tatarstan, that is why we are anxious to be part of the implementation. We are confident that it will be a success because we have combined the vast experience of Haldor Topsoe within high-performance methanol catalysts and methanol technology with the operational experience and local presence of TAIF and NKNH. I truly look forward to the inauguration.

Your company is known for taking on a big role in technical and technological support of projects. Is it the case for this project?

Of course, it is also the case for this project. We will offer our well-known general and technical services for this project throughout its lifetime. We will also supply catalysts for the plant. First-class technical services are actually key in our business model because we want our customers to be satisfied so they continue buying our products, not least catalysts, for as long as the plant is in operation.

Nizhnekamsneftekhim is a leader in the production of synthetic rubbers. How can the implementation of this project affect the economy of the enterprise and affect the cost of isoprene rubbers?

Already now, TAIF and NKNH have a leading market share in the market of synthetic rubber. The new methanol production will strengthen this position and help the companies reduce production cost and increase flexibility. This will make them much more competitive on the world market.

According to Haldor Topsoe's president, the new methanol production will strengthen the position of Nizhnekamskneftekhim and help the companies reduce production cost

What work is to be done after signing the contract?

There is a lot of work to be done now. We have to prepare the basic engineering package, then the detailed engineering package must be made, all the equipment and materials should be manufactured and supplied including, the catalysts, and then the construction and commissioning of the plant should take place. All this work will be done by a team of people from TAIF, NKNH, the contractor and Haldor Topsoe.

You have worked on the launch of the complex of petrochemical and oil refineries of Tatarstan, in particular with TANECO. What was your task in this project?

For TANECO, we were engaged in supplying two hydrogen plants. The additional hydrogen made the refinery able to produce much more environmentally friendly gasoline and diesel. We were responsible for the basic engineering packages, and catalysts for the plants and for smaller plant even for complete supply of this package unit.

What other projects have you implemented in Tatarstan? Could you evaluate the work with the republic?

In addition to the mentioned hydrogen plants at TANECO, Haldor Topsoe has licensed an ammonia and methanol co-production plant in Mendeleevsk that was built by Ammoni. This project was particularly significant because it was the first big-scale grass-roots unit in Russian industry in more than 25 years.

Today, Tatarstan is a centre of competence in processing of oil and gas into valuable products. Over the last decade, this industry was developed rapidly with a strong support from the regional government and the president of the Republic, Mr. R.N. Minnikhanov, personally. Another important development is that we see many Danish companies from other industries develop their business in Tatarstan and building long-term relations here. Of course, all these things help our work in Tatarstan and give us strong confidence in a mutually profitable and successful collaboration with our partners in Tatarstan in the future.

Competitive bioplastics

I would like to ask about bioplastics. How do you assess the prospects of this direction?

This is a very good question. This is actually an area where Haldor Topsoe is also active. Our R&D people are developing a technology for converting biomaterials into plastics. It's a long-term project, it's not done tomorrow or in a year, but I think the world will demand much more renewable plastics, so it will very likely be a commercial solution in some years. At Haldor Topsoe, we don't believe in subsidies, so we expect the technology to be competitive with plastics produced from fossil fuels like natural gas. That is actually possible. But as I have mentioned, it will take years.

After signing the contract, the parties will begin to prepare the basic engineering package

What percentage of conventional plastics the bioplastics can replace and how long it is going to take?

It is difficult for me to say how much. However, I think parts of the developed world may be able to replace a lot of the conventional plastics with bioplastics, maybe the majority.

''We have actually established a range of development projects together with universities here, in Kazan''

When President of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov visited Denmark, he proposed to start joint R&D of new processes. Is there any success in this direction?

Yes, we have actually established a range of development projects together with universities here, in Kazan. We see huge potential in supporting higher education institutions and joint scientific work, and this corresponds directly to one of the key values of our company. In Tatarstan, we collaborate closely with two major universities, KNRTU and KFU, also we have an agreement with a Chemical lyceum for gifted children where the classroom for catalysis, named after Dr. Topsoe, was established in 2016.

As for Russian scientists who work in the field of oil refining, how professional are they?

We have a lot of knowledge about Russian scientists and the qualities of Russian engineers because we have a big operational unit in Moscow and quite many Russian employees. The professional level of these employees are absolutely on the level of international engineers and scientists. Russia has very good universities and excellent schools. For a number of years, our company has supported Russian PhD students, who do research in the field of catalysis, by offering five yearly grants on a contest basis. Over the years, we have awarded more than one hundred Russian PhD students, and of course there has been a lot of young scientists from Tatarstan among them.

The Russian market is one of the highest priority for Haldor Tapsoe

I would also like to ask about the market of chemical fertilizers. More than half of them in the world are produced by your company's technologies. Could you evaluate the market and its dynamics?

You are absolutely correct. We are quite successful in the ammonia market. The dynamics of the ammonia market are quite simple: Historically, the market has been defined more by the development of the world population than the rise in GDP. Of course, there are cycles in the demand of ammonia, but in general, it increases by 3-4% per year.

You operate in different countries. What part of your business (income) falls on the Russian market?

Our business operates successfully within markets that have long-term perspectives, so it's more relevant to speak about prospects, than to indicate figures. Russia is rich in oil and gas resources and has competent professionals in the refining, chemical and petrochemical industries. We see that the country is making progress in processing oil and gas into high-value products, which we see as a logical development for the Russian economy. To support this development, Topsoe offers state-of-art technologies for the mentioned industries, as well as high-performance catalysts. Our Moscow office is one of Topsoe's largest regional branches and has its own group of engineers, supporting our customers here to ensure the highest quality service. Overall, the Russian market is one of the highest priority for our company.

One last question. In what directions do you seek to develop Haldor Topsoe?

We will certainly continue to develop our technologies for the chemical, petrochemical, and refining industries. We foresee significant growth in these areas for the next many years, and we will remain committed to developing them – and our customers' businesses – through research & development. We also see demand for sustainable products in some parts of the world, and we are engaged in developing technologies based on more sustainable raw materials and energy sources.

By Ksenia Zharkova. Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov