A company in Russia is seeking to establish the first iodine
and bromine production in the country since the end of the
Soviet era. By 2018, Tyumen Resources Co. (TRC) intends to
launch a project to extract the chemicals at the
Cherkashinskoye industrial site in Tyumen Oblast in
south-central Russia, according to a recent report from the
A former iodine exploration site with a number of existing
wells down to subsurface mineral-rich brines, official
information indicates that the Cherkashinskoye industrial site
has one of the biggest resource bases in Russia, accounting for
46% of all iodine reserves in the country.
Based on historical records, researchers from the Siberian
Research Institute of Geology said in a paper delivered at the
33rd International Geological Congress in Oslo,
Norway in 2008, that iodine production from Cherkashinskoye
could achieve levels of around 1,200 tpa, but that combined
output from all the prospective fields in Tyumen could be as
much as 8,000 tpa iodine.
Development of Russia’s iodine and bromine
brines has been under consideration for several decades.
One project received the go-ahead at the end of the 1980s to
produce 600 tpa iodine and 245 tpa bromine. However, with the
fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the bankruptcy of several
local mineral enterprises, the plan was abandoned.
According to the US Geological Survey’s (USGS)
archive information, the Tyumen Oblast government sought bids
to survey and redevelop iodine production in the area in the
mid-1990s, but it has taken until now for work to seriously
begin commercialising the operation.
The company envisages that, at full capacity, the project
will produce up to 1,000 tpa iodine and about 300-400 tpa
bromine, which will meet approximately 70% of
Russia’s domestic demand for these
TRC’s project is supported by the regional
government of Tyumen Oblast, which has promised to provide tax
benefits and a number of other incentives to investors.
It is also anticipated that the project will be implemented
with the assistance of a team from the Tyumen State Oil and Gas
Elena Shapovalova, director of TRC, explains that the
project will use unique sorption-electrochemical technology for
extracting iodine, which was developed jointly by the company
and Tyumen University researchers, led by Professor Vladimir
Ganyaev, back in 2012.
"Our combined sorption-electrochemical method differs from
ion exchange method by the fact that the electrochemical
oxidation and acidification of iodide ions occurs in the anode
compartment of the flow-through electrolyser, without adding
reagents, simultaneously with the process of adsorption of
iodine on activated carbon with high exchange capacity,"
Shapovalova outlines. "Recovery and leaching of iodine from
carbon occurs as a result of changing the polarity of
electrodes. The iodine concentration in the obtained
concentrates exceeds the initial level by nearly 1,000 times.
All iodine recovery steps occur in one chemical reactor
[without an] overload of carbon."
Without this technology, the profitability of the project
was questionable, Shapovalova concedes. Also driving the scheme
is the fact that iodine prices jumped in 2011, from $30/kg to
almost $100/kg, following the Asian tsunami, which coincided
with supply constraints. Although prices have now fallen back
to pre-2011 levels, the recent devaluation of the Russian
rouble (R) makes it expensive to purchase iodine from producers
in Chile, Japan and the US.
The Russian city of Tyumen is the
capital of the
Oblast where the Cherkashinskoye industrial site
located. Both the region’s state
university and its local
government have pledged to support TRC’s
(Source: Sergei Butorin)
Shortly after the sorption-electrochemical technology was
developed and demonstrated in 2012, the regional government of
Tyumen allocated R120m ($4m*) of investment for a pilot project
to test the technique in practice.
By September 2013, a production unit had been installed at
the pilot location. During the study, the plant filtered 450
cubic metres of water at a rate of 0.6 cubic metres/hour. With
an initial concentration of iodine in thermal brines of
9g/cubic metre, during the period of operation, the plant
accumulated more than 4kg iodine. TRC has also launched a
testing unit for further processing of the iodine extracted to
achieve a concentration of 24g/litre.
Calculations to determine the profitability of the project
set a threshold of initial iodine concentration not lower than
20mg/litre and a volume of processed water of at least 20,000
cubic metres/day. The concentration of iodine at the
Cherkashinskoye site is 26mg/litre and the Tyumen University
team believed that the best results would be achieved by
fitting iodine-extracting installations at each well at the
project. TRC meanwhile conducted separate installation tests
According to Shapovalova, during the testing phase, which
took place over two and a half months on a well in the
Yalutorovsk area using 1,000 cubic metres of processed water,
TRC managed to extract 10kg iodine concentrate, which was
processed into 3kg of iodine paste and 300g of crude iodine,
with an iodine content of 95%. This gave the pilot plant a
yield of 66%.
"Low levels of iodine in the source water and the high cost
of production most often leads to quite low profitability of
the production of iodine," explains Ganyaev. "Therefore, in the
development of new technology associated with the extraction of
iodine from the reservoir waters, our main task was to exclude
from the technological schemes the stages of the preliminary
acidification and oxidation."
TRC’s calculations indicate that the project
will become profitable at an iodine production rate of 100 tpa.
Excluding the cost of well repairs, overall investment to bring
the site into production is pegged at around R300m ($5m). The
profitability of the project without drilling new wells will
amount to 74% return, while the payback period will be
approximately 22 months. It is expected that the project will
generate income of $4.5m per year.
"We plan to install the production units directly at the
wellhead," says Shapovalova. "The important point is that our
way of production does not require the construction of a plant.
The installations will obtain iodine concentrate, which will be
further processed in stationary laboratory conditions to a
marketable product – iodine crystal,"
Notwithstanding the decline in the global price of iodine
since its 2011 peak, high domestic demand for the chemical
suggests that the project is economically feasible. Shapovalova
anticipates that, allowing time to procure all of the necessary
equipment, commercial production should start around the end of
The Cherkashinskoye industrial site is
located in Tyumen Oblast in
south-central Russia, to the east of the Perm region.
Developing the project
The development of the project is slated to take place in
three stages. The first stage will be launched at the beginning
of 2018 and finished by the end of the year, and will involve
construction of a large pilot area to produce iodine in small
quantities. The second stage will be launched in 2020 and will
provide capacity for the extraction of 500 tpa iodine. The
third stage, the deadline for which is still being finalised,
should double this figure, meaning that, at full capacity
TRC’s facility will produce 1,000 tpa iodine.
TRC says that its main commercial product will be purified
crystalline iodine and iodine salts. "The production cost will
be about R500,000/tonne ($7,600/tonne) of iodine," estimates
Shapovalova. "Conventional extraction methods [would cost
approximately] 30% more, at about R800,000/tonne
($12,300/tonne). Furthermore, there is an important
environmental aspect; the technology will allow for the
extraction of iodine without changing the composition of the
source water, so there will be no harmful impurities in the
waste water," she said.
According to Alexei Salnikod, head of the Innovation
Committee at the Tyumen government, Cherkashinskoye has the
potential to become a multi-mineral production base.
"The cost-effectiveness of the project can be increased with
simultaneous extraction of other minerals from the underground
waters, including bromine, barium, sodium chloride and iodised
salt," Salnikod said. He added that the most promising mineral
for exploitation is bromine, as this can be produced at levels
of 300-400 tpa and is relatively easy to extract together with
TRC also plans to manufacture various organic compounds.
According to the company’s management, it can
produce iodine-protein – an organic iodine compound
with an animal or vegetable protein which is used for the
cultivation and production of iodised food.
However, Salnikod explained that it is still necessary to
determine the average content of this mineral in each of the
wells at Cherkashinskoye.
"We have not yet evaluated the status of the wells," admits
Shapovalova. "They probably will need to be repaired before we
install the equipment. They were drilled in 1960 in
search of oil, which wasn’t found. It is
necessary to define the geography of production, to conduct a
geological survey of selected wells and check the status and
prospects for working with them."
"The option of drilling new wells has also been discussed,
but in this case, the payback period will grow up to six years.
The cost of drilling wells to a depth of 2,000 metres for
production of mineral water is R40-50m ($610,000-760,000)
– this is quite expensive," she said.
TRC expects its main commercial product
to be iodine
crystal, for which it says there is a ready market
Russia in industries such as food,
and chemicals, currently supplied by imports.
One of the main advantages of TRC’s project is
that it enjoys full state support. At the end of 2014, the
governor of Tyumen Oblast, Vladimir Yakushev, ordered the
government to allocate all possible assistance to
The company is based in a special industrial zone, which
exempts it from a number of taxes and offers the possibility of
renting land at lower costs than they would otherwise have to
pay. The importance Russia is placing on TRC’s
project is connected with the fact that
it should enable Russia to reduce its iodine
"Obviously, in the domestic iodine market, there is no
balance, as demand exceeds supply by several times," says
Shapovalova. "There is a shortage of [iodine] in Russia. Iodine
comes to the country primarily from China. Some small
quantities – about 180 tpa – are produced at
the Troitsky iodine plant in Krasnodar Krai, which was built 40
years ago and has old, intermittently working equipment. We
need more than a 1,500 tonnes of iodine and derivatives [to
ensure domestic demand]."
At TRC’s request, Tyumen State University has
conducted a study of the Russian iodine and bromine markets and
concluded that there will be ready buyers for the
According to the deputy director of the West-Siberian
Innovation Centre for Science, Innovation and Development,
Georgy Krylov, iodine production at Cherkashinskoye may be
beneficial for several Russian industries, including
pharmaceuticals, food and chemicals. "Today, [these industries]
have to purchase [their iodine and bromine] abroad, while with
the launching of the project, products of the same quality will
be available on the domestic market at much more affordable
Shapovalova explained that the Cherkashinskoye project has a
much greater importance for modern Russia than it may have had
for the Soviet Union, because under the prior regime, Russia
had access to large reserves of iodine and bromine in the
Soviet states of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.
TRC also says that it has received proposals to use its
technology in other areas, including from Russian oil and gas
companies. According to TRC, the company is currently in
negotiations with Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom,
although it declined to disclose on which projects Gazprom
would consider employing the technology.
Russian iodine production
According to USGS figures, Russia produced just 200 tonnes
iodine in 2014. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the
country had easy access to iodine supply from Turkmenistan,
which produced 500 tonnes iodine last year, and Azerbaijan,
which produced 350 tonnes.
These together are insufficient to supply
Russia’s domestic demand, however, which TRC
estimates to be around 1,500 tpa. The world’s
largest iodine producer is Chile, which produced 21,000 tpa
iodine in 2014, but the decline in the value of the Russian
rouble has made imports prohibitively expensive.
A goiter (enlargement of the thyroid
gland) can occur
when the thyroid gland is not able to make
thyroid hormone to meet the body’s
needs. This can
be due to a lack of iodine in a person’s
diet. To make
up for the shortage of thyroid hormone, the
gland grows larger. (Source: Jerry
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), iodine
deficiency is the world’s most prevalent, yet
easily preventable, cause of brain damage. The organisation
says that globally, this problem is close to being eliminated
— an achievement which it says will rank alongside the
eradication of smallpox and poliomyelitis.
WHO figures for 2007, the most recent date for which it has
published iodine deficiency data, show that the Russian
population has a mild iodine deficiency, with an average
urinary iodine level of around 50-100 μg/litre.
The body says that one of the most effective methods of
tackling the issue is by adding iodine to dietary salt. Salt
was chosen because it is widely available and consumed in
regular amounts throughout the year, and because the cost of
iodising it is extremely low – only about US$ 0.05 per
person, per year.
Globally, UNICEF estimates that 66% of households now have
access to iodised salt.
*Conversions made October 2015