Russia to revive Tyumen iodine and bromine project

By IM Staff
Published: Thursday, 22 October 2015

The Cherkashinskoye industrial site in Tyumen Oblast was assessed for iodine and bromine production from mineral-rich brines towards the end of the Soviet era, but a lack of funding and appropriate technologies scuppered the project. Now, locally-based Tyumen Resources Co. is seeking to deploy a unique new method for extracting iodine, with the support of the local university and regional government, Vladislav Vorotnikov, IM Correspondent, reports.

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 company’s management. 

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 products. 

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 University. 

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. 

Iodine1  

The Russian city of Tyumen is the capital of the
Oblast where the Cherkashinskoye industrial site is
located. Both the region’s state university and its local
government have pledged to support TRC’s iodine project.
(Source: Sergei Butorin)

Pilot project

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 for comparison.

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,"
she added. 

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 2018. 

Iodine2  

The Cherkashinskoye industrial site is located in Tyumen Oblast in
south-central Russia, to the east of the Perm region. (Source: Wikimedia)

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 iodine. 

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.

Iodine3  

TRC expects its main commercial product to be iodine
crystal, for which it says there is a ready market in
Russia in industries such as food, pharmaceuticals
and chemicals, currently supplied by imports.
(Source: Wikimedia)

State importance

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 TRC. 

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 imports. 

"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 company’s products.

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 prices,"
he says. 

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.

Iodine4  

A goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland) can occur 
when the thyroid gland is not able to make enough 
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 thyroid 
gland grows larger.  (Source: Jerry Kirkhart)

Iodine deficiency

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.

Source: WHO

*Conversions made October 2015