Kazan is the cradle of Russian and world organic chemistry (Part 1)

The first chemical plants in Russia, Mendeleev's work at the factory of the merchant from Yelabuga and the history of Orgsintez — to the 100th anniversary of the TASSR

Kazan is the cradle of Russian and world organic chemistry (Part 1)
Photo: Kazanorgsintez PJSC

Today, Tatarstan is known in the world as a major chemical centre: tens of thousands of specialists work in laboratories of higher educational institutions, research and scientific institutions. It is home to the country's largest production facilities, which not only occupy a significant share of the Russian and global chemical and petrochemical markets but also create unique technologies on their sites. These enterprises inherit the traditions of the legendary Kazan chemical school. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the republic, Realnoe Vremya online newsppaer publishes the series of articles “TAIF Group in the history of Tatarstan”. This article, based on archival documents, is dedicated to the history of the development of chemical industries and specialised schools, as well as the formation of one of the flagships of the domestic petrochemical industry — Kazanorgsintez PJSC. Part 1.

Kazan Chemical School

The traditions of chemical production of high technological level on the territory of Tatarstan originated in the times of Volga Bulgaria — there were no one like local craftsmen in leather craft. As science and technology developed, the traditions of Tatarstan chemists were also strengthened. In the 19th century, a unique scientific school was created on the basis of the chemical laboratory of the Kazan University, which gave a galaxy of world-famous scientists.

It is no coincidence that chemistry historians call Kazan and the chemical laboratory of the Kazan University “the cradle of Russian organic chemistry”. Nikolay Zinin, the outstanding Russian scientist who discovered the reaction of converting nitrobenzene to aniline (the Zinin reaction), which formed the basis of the aniline paint industry and played a significant role in the development of synthetic organic chemistry, taught and experimented here since 1835.

The reaction of converting nitrobenzene to aniline, discovered by Nikolai Zinin, played a significant role in the development of synthetic organic chemistry. Photo: kpfu.ru

One of the first students of Zinin in Kazan was Alexander Butlerov, who for his great contribution to the development of Russian and world chemistry is rightfully placed on a par with Dmitry Mendeleev, who also worked closely with Kazan scientists. In 1849, Butlerov graduated from the Kazan Imperial University with a candidate's degree. Professor Karl Claus (the discoverer of ruthenium) insisted that the promising young scientist “be left at the university to prepare for the professorship”. In the autumn of 1850, Butlerov successfully passed the master's exam, and in 1851 presented his first dissertation “Oxidation of Organic Compounds”, successfully defended it and was elected a junior scientific assistant of the University Council and became a full-time teacher. Having initiated the re-equipment of the university laboratory, Butlerov made a number of discoveries: in 1859 he discovered the polymer of formaldehyde (trioxymethylene), in 1861 — methylenitane. In the same year, during an experiment to remove iodine from methylene iodide, Butlerov obtained ethylene — the fact that played a huge role in the interpretation of the structure of unsaturated organic compounds. In September of the same year, Alexander Butlerov at the congress in Speyer, Germany, makes his famous report “On the chemical structure of substances”, voicing new views on the structure of organic compounds. He first proposed to introduce the concept of “chemical structure” into the terminology of chemical science and was the first in the world of chemical science to suggest the possibility of the tetrahedral structure of carbon atom compounds. Not content with the theory, Butlerov, soon after returning to Kazan, in the course of extensive experimental research, obtained trimethylcarbinol — the first of the tertiary alcohols. And this marked the beginning of the endless series of syntheses used to this day. In 1864, Butlerov began publishing his textbook “Introduction to the complete study of the organic chemistry”, which caused a furore in the scientific community. For today's chemists, Butlerov's name is the name of the creator of the theory of the structure of organic substances, without which there would be no modern petrochemistry. It was with Butlerov's work that the famous Kazan school of organic chemistry began.

Alexander Butlerov's discoveries marked the beginning of the endless series of syntheses in organic chemistry. Photo: Ruspekh.ru

In 1868, at the suggestion and motivated presentation of Dmitry Mendeleev (by the way, the author of the first textbook on organic chemistry in the history of Russian education), who closely interacted with Kazan scientists, Alexander Butlerov was elected Ordinary Professor at St. Petersburg University. Together with his teacher Nikolay Zinin, he laid the foundation for the development of “the Petersburg branch” of the Kazan chemical school. Vladimir Markovnikov, after leaving the Kazan University, continued his research at Novorossiysk (today Odessa — editor'a note), and then at Moscow University. The “Moscow branch” was formed. Butlerov's students, and later Alexander Zaytsev's students, became heads of chemistry departments at other Russian universities: Alexander Popov, Yegor Wagner in Warsaw, Sergey Reformatsky in Kiev, and Alexey Albitsky in Kharkiv.

In August 1868, the Bondyuzhsky chemical plant was opened, the first product of which was sulphuric acid. Further development of the plant is associated with the name of the Yelabuga merchant of the 1st Guild, Pyotr Ushkov. By 1870, the plant was producing 238,000 pounds of chemical products: sulphuric acid, alumina sulphate, alum, copper and iron vitriol.

Bondyuzhsky plant in the 1880s. Photo: mendeleevsk.tatarstan.ru

In search of new technologies, Pyotr Kapitonovich managed to establish cooperation with the best chemists in Russia and Europe, carefully studying the technologies and the market. Thanks to his bold investments, the plant becomes one of the leading enterprises in Russia for the production of inorganic chemistry products. His products were shown 14 times at exhibitions in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Paris, Chicago, Vienna, Philadelphia, Kazan, and Nizhny Novgorod. Working at the Ushkov factory was considered an honour by both foreign chemical engineers and domestic scientists, including Dmitry Mendeleev, who met the merchant in 1868. In 1893, under the leadership of the Russian scientist and on the instructions of the military department, the first experimental batch of smokeless gunpowder for 500 poods, called pyrocollodium, was obtained there by Dmitry Ivanovich himself.

Dmitry Mendeleev worked closely with Kazan scientists. Photo: kpcdn.net

It was Dmitry Mendeleev who first drew the attention of the Russian public to that oil is not only a fuel but an important source of chemical raw materials. He dedicated a number of his works to the issues of oil origin and rational processing. In particular, after returning from a trip to the United States, where on behalf of the Russian technical society, he studied the American experience of organising the oil industry, in 1877 Mendeleev published the book “The Oil Industry in the North American State of Pennsylvania and the Caucasus”, in which he notes the short-sightedness of the Russian Empire's state policy in the export of crude oil and giving foreign companies the production and delivery of products of processing. He pointed out the need to develop Russia's own oil refining. Mendeleev with a pain in his heart, hoping to still be heard, addresses the Russian business community:

“Gentlemen of Moscow and all other Russian capitalists! Whether you let the French, Germans, Swedes, British and Americans to exploit this Russian wealth and make a good profit or you will guess to take it when the one who has followed the fate of the Russian oil industry and wants nothing more as it develops to those sizes which correspond to the natural reserves of the country once again points to a large lucrative thing. Show the world at least in this case that you can handle your own wealth, when you are given a wide, reasonable freedom and there is a Russian example. You, gentlemen Russian capitalists, will have to light up Russia and Europe, share this service with America, and on the way turn a four-kopeck product into a five-ruble one, from which something will go to your hands either and to the hands of thousands of workers who will be required to turn these millions of pounds lying in vain under the ground.”

Photo: buyabook.ru

Mendeleev, who is often called the prophet of science, who was able to predict its inevitability long before the era of controlled aeronautics, and who probably left a trace in all areas of science, already at the end of the 19th century stressed that it is impossible and wrong to identify the oil business only with kerosene production and heating. “From the national economic point of view, this is an unproductive waste of natural resources," Dmitry Ivanovich stressed, comparing this approach with an attempt to stoke the furnace with banknotes. Oil is a precious raw material that needs full, versatile, complex processing, and the development of chemical and petrochemical industries, as the great scientist noted even then. This point is more relevant than ever today.

As for the cooperation of the prominent scientist with the Bondyuzhsky plant, the scientist said about his impressions of the Bondyuzhsky chemical plant: “I, who have seen many Western European chemical plants, was proud to see that what a Russian figure created could not only be as good as, but in many ways surpass, foreign ones. Soda, preparations of alumina and chromium, white lime and sulphuric acid are so made at the plant of Pyotr Ushkov that, whether in the West, volumes would written about it...” (based on the article by N. Potapova “D.I. Mendeleev and Bondyuzhsky chemical plant”, Mendeleev Museum Bulletin No. 3, 2004).

In 1910, the major event took place at the factory: under the leadership of the founder of Russian agrochemistry, Dmitry Pryanishnikov, for the first time in Russia, a pilot batch (3,000 poods) of simple superphosphate was made from domestic raw materials.

Chemical engineer Lev Yakovlevich Karpov, after whom this plant is named today, headed the company in 1915. Over two years (before the revolution of 1917), under his leadership, the plant mastered the production of liquid chlorine, medical and technical chloroform. The production of the latter was organised by the young biochemist, Boris Ilyich Zbarsky — future academician (the same one who embalmed the body of Vladimir Lenin). The factory's military registration office was headed by Boris Pasternak, the future poet and Nobel laureate, from October 1916 to March 1917.

Since 1918, Lev Karpov headed the Department of Chemical Industry under the Supreme Council of National Economy of the Russian Soviet Republic. When in 1920 the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom) ordered to organise the production of radium salts, the Bondyuzhsky chemical plant was appointed as the executor of the task. The organization of production was led by academician Vitaly Khlopin and engineer Ivan Bashilov.

The development of the Kazan school of chemists in the Soviet years only intensified. In 1930, the Kazan Chemical Technological Institute was opened, which grew out of the Kazan United Industrial College. Russian Emperor Alexander III ordered to create in Kazan a combined secondary chemical and technological school and a lower-secondary technical school with mechanical, chemical and construction specialties by decree on June 14 (26), 1890. In May 1930, by order of the People's Commissariat of the RSFSR, the Chemical Institute was formed on the basis of the chemical department of the Kazan Polytechnic Institute and the chemical department of the Kazan University. On June 23, 1930, it was transformed into the Butlerov Kazan Сhemical Technological Institute. From April 1935 to December 1992 — S.M. Kirov Kazan Сhemical-Technological Institute.

On April 13, 1945, by the decree of the Council of People's Commissars, a branch of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR — KFAN of the USSR was opened in Kazan, which included the Chemistry Institute. Today, the Alexander Arbuzov Kazan Chemical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences specialises in organic and physical chemistry.

Industry was created by passionate people

In the 1950s, with the discovery of oil deposits in the territory of modern Tatarstan, chemistry received a new impetus. The traditions established by the Kazan chemical school in the 19th century developed into the creation and implementation of petrochemical technologies. New, more modern and powerful production facilities were needed to process the hydrocarbon raw materials produced in the republic. A significant part of the implementation of the decision of the Plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU on the need to develop the petrochemical and chemical industry was to be the creation of the Kazan chemical plant. In July 1958, the Council of Ministers of the RSFSR approved the directorate of the new enterprise and the construction of the future Kazanorgsintez was launched.

“The post-war decades were the most fruitful period of socio-economic development of Soviet Tatarstan. This is the development of “big oil” and the construction of the complex of petrochemical industries, the transformation of Kazan into a major centre of domestic engineering, the construction of KAMAZ, the development of Almetyevsk, Nizhnekamsk and Naberezhnye Chelny as major industrial centres in the south-east of the republic. During the Great Patriotic War, the aviation and engine-building plants were evacuated to Kazan, and the production of equipment for the aviation industry began. We can proudly say that it was during these years that the “generals” of Tatarstan's production — Valentin Shashin, Nikolai Lemaev, Vitaly Kopylov, Lev Vasiliev, Vladimir Lushnikov, Nikolay Kalashnikov — brought Tatarstan's industry to the all-Union level," said President of the Republic of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov at an event marking the official start of the year of the 100th anniversary of the Tatar ASSR.

After 5 years of construction, Kazan produced the first products — phenol and acetone. Photo: Kazanorgsintez PJSC

“Few cities and even states can boast that they have the enterprise such as Kazanorgsintez PJSC. The entire history of the plant is inextricably linked with the formation of the chemical industry of our country. Today, our company is a team of experienced professionals and, at the same time, young, ambitious specialists," said Farid Minigulov, the director general of Kazanorgsintez PJSC, in an interview with Realnoe Vremya.

The first products — phenol and acetone, which are extremely necessary for the developing industry of organic synthesis, to establish the production of synthetic rubbers and monomers in the country, the Kazan plant of organic synthesis shipped already on July 13, 1963. This date is considered the official birthday of the petrochemical giant. The production capacity at that time was 45,000 tonnes of phenol and 27,500 tonnes of acetone a year. Today, the very fact of building such production facility, and the annual production volumes do not seem so large-scale and significant. But then, at the dawn of the Russian petrochemical industry, this was a huge achievement.

The production was created on the basis of a technology developed by a group of Soviet scientists back in 1949. The method of co-production of phenol and acetone through isopropylbenzene (cumol method) was so successful that it quickly spread around the world, and currently 95% of all phenol is produced using it.

And in the same year, 1963, the central factory laboratory began its operation. Subsequently, new production facilities were put into operation almost every year:

— 1964 — own production of isopropylbenzene of 84,000 tonnes a year was launched;

— 1965 — the first stage of ethylene production was commissioned, with a design capacity of 62,400 tonnes of ethylene and 16,500 tonnes of propylene a year;

— at the same time, the first stage of the Kazan organic synthesis plant produced the first high-pressure polyethylene, with a production capacity of 24,000 tonnes a year;

— 1968 — the second stage of ethylene production for 60,000 tonnes a year was put into operation;

— 1969 — the production of ethanolamines started;

— 1973 — the launch of the second stage ethylene oxide workshop;

— 1982 — the fourth stage of ethylene production with a capacity of 200,000 tonnes was launched;

— 1983 — the production of low-pressure polyethylene was established.

The first stage of production of ethylene oxide, 1967. Photo from the archive of the press service of Kazanorgsintez PJSC

Simultaneously with the rapid development of Kazanorgsintez, social problems were also solved. In parallel with laying the foundations for new production facilities in Kazan itself, blocks of multi-storey buildings with comfortable apartments for residents of the capital of the republic and employees of petrochemical production were growing with the active participation and support of the enterprise. Infrastructure and social facilities were built: kindergartens, schools. The chemists' recreation centre, the famous Sintez swimming pool, recreation centres, and many other important facilities were opened.

By the end of the 1980s, the time of great state changes, Kazanorgsintez reached, being a powerful petrochemical complex, which produced more than 170,000 tonnes of low-pressure polyethylene and more than 184,000 tonnes of high-pressure polyethylene and savylene. For comparison, the first industrial production lines launched in the USSR in the 6190s had a declared capacity of only 3,000 tonnes of polyethylene a year. And the total volume of polyethylene production in the USSR in the 1980s reached 622,600 tonnes. In other words, more than 40% of all Soviet polyethylene was produced by Kazanorgsintez, which was and continues to be the largest enterprise in this area in Russia and Eastern Europe.

The path to independence and its price

The beginning of the 1990s. Change of the social system and state formation. The Soviet Union, with its all-Union planned economy, strong ties between enterprises throughout the country, and guaranteed sales of finished products, is a thing of the past. The transition to a market economy focused on local planning and separate for each enterprise was particularly difficult for the largest enterprises with a wide range and significant volumes of products. Reduced demand on the domestic market, product packaging, loss of previous production links and failures in the supply of raw materials — all this led to that at the beginning of the last decade of the 20th century, production volumes at Kazanorgsintez fell by almost by 10%. For example, the production of low-pressure polyethylene decreased to 154,000 tonnes a year, and high-pressure polyethylene and savylene — to 168,000 tonnes. The only thing that saved the company from complete financial failure was that back in 1987 it created its own foreign trade firm, which managed to sell some of its products for export.

By 1990, the important political event had taken place: Tatarstan adopted the Declaration of state sovereignty. According to it, the TASSR was transformed into the Tatar Soviet Socialist Republic, and then — into the Republic of Tatarstan. “The land, its subsoil, natural resources and other resources on the territory of the Tatar SSR are the exclusive property of the people” — one of the fundamental tenets of the document. During the privatisation process that started in 1991, more than 100 industrial enterprises, organisations in the construction and transport sectors were already under the jurisdiction of Tatarstan.

The government of the republic, in contrast to Gaidar's “shock therapy”, preferred a policy of “soft” entry into the market. And the privatisation process in Tatarstan was held a little differently: for each production, including such giants as Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC and Kazanorgsintez PJSC. At the start of the privatisation campaign, privatisation plans were adopted with a clear assessment of the value of the company's property, including social and cultural facilities, the size of the authorised capital and the economic condition of the company.

The privatisation plan stipulates that shares corresponding to the value of 25% of the authorised capital remain in state ownership, and 15% are transferred to specialised investment funds for subsequent sale for privatisation checks of the Russian Federation and registered privatisation deposits of the Republic of Tatarstan. The shares worth 9,8% of the authorised capital are sold at par value to related legal entities. The remaining ordinary and preferred shares in the amount equal to 50,2% of the authorised capital were intended for the labour collective. Moreover, some of them — almost 13% — were transferred free of charge, according to the work experience and contribution of employees to the development of Kazanorgsintez, about 25% were sold on preferential terms — for 2/3 of the price and in installments for 9 months. According to the privatisation plan, no more than 15% of the company's shares were to be sold for privatisation cheques of the Russian Federation and registered privatisation deposits of the Republic of Tatarstan. As a result, in the course of corporatisation, Kazanorgsintez received the living money needed for investment in modernisation, while most of the shares (over 50%) remained in the hands of those who work at the enterprise and who are vitally interested in a successful economy and the development of production. This was a unique approach to privatisation at that time, which was accepted as the only one possible in Tatarstan. Thanks to this decision of the republican authorities and heads of enterprises, employees of privatised plants received much greater rights than their colleagues in other regions of the country.

For each production in Tatarstan, including the giants such as Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC and Kazanorgsintez PJSC, plans for privatisation were adopted

Marat Galeev, a member of the State Council's Committee on economy, investment and entrepreneurship, also confirmed the correctness of the decisions made at that time in the interview with Realnoe Vremya. This approach is based on applying maximum efforts to maintain the living standards of the population, preserving industrial and agricultural potential, and conducting state-verified privatization.

Marat Galeev said due to what Orgsintez was saved. Photo: zampolit.com

“Tatarstan developed its own version of property privatization. In order to acquire a share of property in the republic, IPV (registered privatisation deposits) were used together with vouchers. It was important to maintain existing enterprises. The future showed that this was the right decision. In the regions where only voucher privatization was used, the owners of production facilities and the location of the privatized enterprises were different. In Tatarstan, business owners and employees live on the same territory. Therefore, they are interested not only in business development. The owners of enterprises are residents of Tatarstan, their families and children are here, and it is profitable for them to take on social responsibility: to invest in housing construction, healthcare development, and the organization of sanatorium-treatment treatment for factory workers," said Marat Galeev.

Privatization in the republic was carried out according to a law adopted by the parliament. Session of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Tatarstan, 1992. Photo: Mikhail Kozlovsky

The leadership of Tatarstan made every effort to preserve industrial enterprises. The republic used its own — real — valuation of the property of privatised enterprises. And the coefficient of such assessment exceeded the all-Russian one by 26 times. The high cost of enterprises, as well as the moratorium on the privatization of strategic assets, allowed Tatarstan to maintain production facilities. In Moscow and other regions, privatized property was bought for almost nothing.

“It was necessary to act ahead of time, and we did not oversleep this moment. Our decision eased the period of recession in the economy, which began in the early 90s," said Marat Galeev, a member of the State Council's Committee on economy, investment and entrepreneurship.

Time has confirmed that the government of Tatarstan then made the right decisions for the economy of the republic.

About the tests that fell to the lot of Kazanorgsintez in the late 1990s, the new era in the history of the flagship of the Russian petrochemical industry since the early 2000s and the role that it played in the fate of the enterprise TAIF Group — read in the next part of the material.

By Arseny Favstritsky
Tatarstan