Rustam Minnikhanov: ‘We understand where to get hydrogen, but where will we get the bacteria?’
The Tatarstan president expressed his interest in bioprotein production and agreed with a Khimgrad resident’s criticism
“Russia is a large gas producer. Perhaps, we can take the initiative and create a federal programme,” Rustam Minnikhanov outlined the future introduction of technology to make biological fodder protein from methane (associated petroleum gas) in a businesslike manner. Soviet scientists’ know-how that didn’t become a reality in the USSR and was supported by Putin’s daughter’s Innopraktika foundation was tabled at a meeting of Tatneftekhiminvest-holding’s Board of Directors. The project obtained a positive assessment — there will be created a taskforce comprising Kazan National Research and Technological University and Kazan Federal University. Innovative Technologies manufacturing protective coatings (a Khimgrad resident) got another envious chance.
Know-how from Divnogorie
Tatarstan can become a pilot region to produce biological fodder protein made from methane. At least, the republic’s interest in this new area in biotechnologies was expressed at another board meeting of Tatneftekhiminvest-holding on 31 March, which was traditionally chaired by the republic’s President Rustam Minnikhanov. They talked about setting up the production of biological fodder protein, which is imported to Russia to provide fodder with more nutritious and quality additives. By experts’ estimates, Russia’s annual demand for it is around 2 million tonnes, while the republic needs about 75-100,000 tonnes. It is often replaced with imported soya.
Scientist and researcher Sergey Glukhikh working at Divnogorie company presented the production concept of the valuable biological product. As a scientist, he has dedicated his scientific career to this topic and keeps doing research in Pushchino in Voronezh. Officially, his report named boringly Gaprin — Bioprotein from Methane. In fact, this had an old scientific development to make bioprotein from methane that was forgotten in the USSR but didn’t have the time to be produced, probably, after the dissolution of the country, behind it.
Sergey Glukhikh briefly reminded the audience that around 30 Soviet research centres worked on it, while the main factory was based in Svetly Yar. It started to make protein from yeast that grew in a reactor feeding with refined products for the first time. In the end, the technology was borrowed by European countries — Denmark, Norway. According to him, the transfer of the Soviet technology went on. A Danish plant making bioprotein recently began to be owned by the USA.
“It moved to an American company that is trying to manufacture protein for fish. While we buy fodder for fish abroad, though we could solve this problem on our own,” the scientist and researcher noted.
On the other hand, Russian foundations entered the fray for this technology. As Sergey Glukhikh said, Innopraktika foundation, where Vladimir Putin’s daughter works, united with Biopraktika, which launched the country’s first industrial unit making bioprotein, a few months ago.
According to Sergey Glukhikh, the production of fodder additives from methane is profitable for the country because the technology is based on associated petroleum gas (APG). The country annually burns 24 billion cubic metres of fuel, though it could be absorbed by 20 plants with a capacity of 100,000 tonnes each.
“100 mobile facilities could overshadow the environmental impact of 24bn cubic metres of APG,” he said in his speech at the board meeting.
According to him, there is a database of bioprotein projects, while a breakthrough technology could become a reality in Tatarstan. “I won’t lie if I say that such partnership can work miracles,” Sergey Glukhikh flattered the region in the end.
If bioprotein will appear in Tatarstan or not
“Rafinat, you have probably delved into the topic. Are there projects that have been tested?” the president asked Director General of Tatneftekhiminvest-holding Rafinat Yarullin.
Rustam Minnikhanov also specified that he was interested in real production, not test units. The head of Tatneftekhiminvest-holding replied that such projects existed only abroad.
“And it requires some bacteria,” the president continued asking questions.
“This is the root of the problem,” Mr Yarullin shared his fears.
“We understand where to get hydrogen, but where will we get the bacteria?” Rustam Minnikhanov asked point-blank.
“We have a collection of microorganisms,” Sergey Glukhikh joined the conversation. “They all have been tested for efficacy and safety.”
The head of the republic asked the profit margin of the production and consumption volumes. After he learnt the republic consumed little, he didn’t become sad. Sergey Glukhikh offered to export it.
In conclusion, the president summed up: the topic is unique, interesting. And he tasked people who were at the meeting with creating a taskforce and including representatives of Kazan National Research and Technological University and Kazan Federal University.
How to stop an outflow of Kazan students
The food topic was discussed with a different focus in a speech given by Director General of Natural Health Sergey Patrakov. The resident of Khimgrad transferred the production from neighbouring Udmurtia to Tatarstan in February 2020. At the same time, he has representative offices in Turkey and the UAE. After he moved to Kazan, the resident faced a shortage of workforce. This is what he said at the beginning of his speech.
According to his observations, Kazan students go to Moscow and Saint Petersburg after graduation from universities and leave the city without fresh power. In his opinion, this happens because young people want to compensate for the money invested in higher education. It is approximately 2,3 million rubles. By Sergey Patrakov’s calculations, with current salaries, the expenses can return in “6 years and 4 months” if “one eats and drinks nothing”.
“We have found a way of slowing down the outflow of young professional specialists,” he claimed.
Patrakov assured the audience that his company was ready to offer a competitive salary but he would like universities to open access to senior students. “They don’t see where they can apply the knowledge they learnt. If universities need it, we would like to have a chance of communicating,” he addressed rectors who were at the meeting.
The president supported him without reservation. “Access to students will help to solve this problem, communication should be established after the third year,” he agreed. The head of the republic admitted that serious staff problems arise on the periphery and recommended choosing future specialists immediately from the 3rd and 4th years. “And they should receive information and contact an employer,” Minnikhanov thinks.
A kefir glass for 9 rubles or natural kisel for 11
Later, the head of Natural Health switched to the main topic — baby food. According to Sergey Patrakov, his company supplies kisel made of natural ingredients. He put examples of costs on schoolchildren’s meals. According to him, in Tatarstan, 9 out of 50 rubles for lunch are spent on kefir one can have an allergy to. In Udmurtia, kisel that contains starch, colourants is offered for 14 out of 50 rubles.
“In other words, it contains nothing beneficial. It is better to drink water, it will be more beneficial,” Petrakov claimed.
While his company started to supply kisel that contains a child’s daily intake of vitamins to China (a glass will cost 11 rubles). Here the food budget per schoolchild is 428 rubles. Moreover, a third of school age children in China total 4,3 million people. Why do Chinese schoolchildren eat three times a day at school? According to Sergey Petrakov, they eat more because together with knowledge a schoolchild is taught a skilled job so that he or she can earn money if there is no money for higher education.
Orthopaedics is another area. The company makes hypoallergenic cushions, orthopaedic mattresses. The head of Natural Health company talked about their advantages in detail. In general, he made a number of remarks about rent rates and the operation of industrial parks.
“Let’s start with the cushion,” the Tatarstan president cheerfully backed him. “Your cushion isn’t worse than an imported one, we use it. It is comfortable, good.”
Switching to a serious conversation, the head of the republic acknowledged that it was important to get feedback and instructed the Tatarstan Ministry of Economy with addressing export issues.
“Terms of reference aren’t realised”
Another resident of Khimgrad — a company manufacturing protective coatings for industrial facilities — cautiously complained about difficulties with getting to big construction sites of the republic. Vice Director of Innovative Solutions Yekaterina Smirnova said that their company used global manufacturers’ components, offered unique anti-fire and heat insulating coatings, actively worked with engineering organisations but couldn’t get access to a construction site.
“For instance, we have an intumescent coating that achieves up to 120 minutes fire resistance. There is super thin liquid heat insulation. Americans have two modifications of ingredients, while we do five. It has environmental resistance, doesn’t require special skills,” she said. “Unfortunately, we can’t show interesting facilities where our materials are used. In most cases, we face a situation in which terms of reference aren’t realised. We would like to pay attention to this issue.”
Yekaterina Smirnova had to show her character: it became impossible to show a presentation during her speech, and she had to do without a demonstration of products.
“Here is the minister,” Rustam Minnikhanov sighed. “I think what you have said here... And even if the half is true, it already attracts us.”
“But we regularly show experiments,” Smirnova tried to explain.
“We don’t need experiments. Choose facilities, so that we both get a benefit. Let’s work on it. And if your words coincide with what you say, we will use your materials in the design of our facilities, we will turn to you. Let’s use them in pilot facilities if the price is acceptable,” the president promised.