OVER-RELIANT NO LONGER

Kazakhstan 2018 | ENERGY & MINING | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Abdurassul Zharmenov, General Director of the National Center on Complex Processing of Mineral Raw Materials of the Republic of Kazakhstan, on demand for scientific developments in the industrial sector, the importance of scientific research, and local technology.

Abdurassul Zharmenov
BIOGRAPHY
With a PhD in engineering, Abdurassul Zharmenov has been a professor since 1994 and a corresponding member of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Kazakhstan since 1995. Having previously worked at the Kazakh Academy of Mineral Resources, the International Academy of Mineral Resources, the National Engineering Academy, the National Academy of Sciences, and the International Informatization Academy, he has a great deal of experience in remediation, assessment, and the development of mineral resources; the development of new fields with complex ores; chemistry and the technology of processing different types of metals and technogenic raw materials; and the receipt of ferroalloys, reducers, and refractories.

What was the origin behind establishing this center?

In 1993 there was a presidential decree that stipulating the creation of such centers in priority fields of the economy: the atomic sector, biotechnology, space research, and mining and metallurgy—all research centers. When the Soviet Union collapsed, government officials decided that science and production had to interact effectively, so these were set up to bridge the gap between science and the manufacturing sector so that all the scientific discoveries could be applied directly to production and the wider economy. Within this particular organization, we are doing a tremendous job in bridging the gap and are making sure there is demand for scientific developments from the industrial sector. For a long time Kazakhstan's population has believed local science practices are not effective and public funds could be better spent; this is why there is not enough money being invested in science. In turn, the government and private sector often relied on foreign research, and many companies in Kazakhstan were in fact transferred to foreign corporations to develop and modernize their enterprises by completely relying on foreign technology.

What is the core responsibility and input of the center for the country?

Kazakh science is alive and doing groundbreaking work. Most of the foreign mining corporations, who previously only used foreign technology, now mainly rely on developments from this center. 80% of the technological solutions that they use come from here, primarily because no one knows the resources of this country and how to mine and process them better than the local scientists here. Our main task for large Kazakhstani companies that have existed since the Soviet era is to update their technology to adapt to changing raw materials. For example, when they run out of ore deposits and have to input material from a new source, which needs to be processed in a different way, the technology needs to be tweaked and updated to current conditions. There are also new enterprises being built from scratch only using the technologies developed here. Over the past 20 years, USD3.5 billion was invested worldwide in constructing new factories and smelting plants using our in-house technologies. More than half of these new plants that were built using these technologies are outside of Kazakhstan, and extend to almost every continent. There are several such plants in Canada, Italy, China, Bolivia, Brazil, Russia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. Nonetheless, the center is developing with tough competition from foreign research organizations, so while I cannot say we are the best in all fields, there are certain areas where this center is a world leader.

What are some examples of innovations and technologies that have had a large impact on industry around the world?

One-tenth of the world's lead that is produced directly from ore—and not recycling materials—is made using technologies developed here. In addition, we lead the world in technologies related to complex ferrous alloys. There are many recent developments in this field that were made here. To date, the plants using technologies developed at our center produce USD3 billion in sales per year. For the first time ever, we have developed an alloy of iron, aluminum, and silica. The necessity of such an alloy has been discussed globally for around 70 years, as this alloy increases the efficiency of steel production. There were efforts to produce this by mixing ferrosilicon alloys with metallic aluminum; however, that process turned out to be expensive, and now we have developed a way to produce this alloy from the waste from coal mines and not the coal itself, which is cheaper. Now, there are production tests of this ferrous silica aluminum alloy around the world. This alloy was tested in steel production at the facilities of some of the largest steel companies in the world in Japan, Turkey, South Korea, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Brazil and has seen excellent results everywhere. It is also cheaper in production than ferrosilicon alloys or aluminum.