Ural Plant of Deicing Materials implements a groundbreaking technology for keeping city roads, sidewalks and courtyards in winter.
Every winter, the United States use up to 20 million tons of deicing agents, while in Norway, up to 8 kg of various types of salts can be scattered on 1 m2 of road over the winter. Foreign countries have applied this technology since the 40s of the last century. In our country, the practice of cleaning streets with deicing agents that are fundamentally different from sand-salt mixtures is only taking root, but Russian producers of deicing materials have already surprised the international road community. The founder of the Ural Plant of Deicing Materials Rustam Gilfanov tells Kommersant about the know-how for snowy winters, the philosophy of street cleanliness and business life hacks in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.
– All over the world, the outgoing year has passed under the sign of COVID-19 pandemic. Many business sectors calculate their losses. How is your company going through this period?
- For us, as for many others, the pandemic set a lot of non-standard tasks. We had to rebuild our traditional working rhythm. On the one hand, we needed to master remote control methods, on the other hand, to use additional protective measures for employees who had to be at work every day, because winter comes regardless of diseases, and cities need our products.
Moreover, at the very beginning of the pandemic, municipalities faced a serious challenge of disinfecting public facilities. Our product line already had a road detergent. Based on our laboratory and research facilities, we have developed additional products that not only clean surfaces efficiently, but also disinfect them. One of the first cities to receive such a shampoo was Perm.
- Has anything changed in production processes and interactions within the enterprise?
- This year has shown that the most stable are the companies that are ready for non-standard solutions, diversification of assets, and prompt revision of the cost structure. Of course, first of all, we began to expand our remote control systems. But besides this, 2020 as never before manifested the truth of proverb “one soldier does not make a battle”. Only those enterprises that support each other can survive in this turbulent time. We are very grateful to our partners, including those in the Perm Territory, who made certain concessions, understanding the difficulties of the period.
In recent years, the trend of the so-called “sharing economy” is actively gaining momentum all over the world, when market participants share their resources and assets, first of all, of course, intellectual one. With our partners from related industries, we began to actively share experience, discuss the tasks and challenges encountered by enterprises. Sharing any partner assets and experience in exchange for providing access to your own, significantly expanded the competence of all participants in such a process and reduced the cost of a number of services. For example, you have free production facilities, and I have a research laboratory. We need additional capacities to manufacture a product, and you need to carry out research and development to improve the quality of your goods. We help each other by optimizing rental costs for us and research costs for you.
We believe this business model is trend-setting. It is a basis for creating technoparks and clusters. For us, these opportunities seem promising at the federal level. The experience of our specialists and the company's assets allow us to create new beneficial conditions for Russian chemical enterprises. I think we will continue to develop this area of business partnership.
- Your company occupies a unique niche - the development and production of deicing materials. How much is such a narrow niche in demand?
- First of all, we specialize not just in deicing materials, but in creating comfortable and safe living conditions in the winter period. Of course, our key focus is on transport, road and utility services. It's no secret that snow and ice cause huge damage to the health of people and the economy of the country. Just think, every year in an average city about 8 thousand people break their limbs because of falling on slippery streets. The total economic damage from such injuries for budgets of different levels, starting with the family one, can reach almost 1 billion rubles. It is only within one city. Now, let’s multiply this figure by at least 15, the number of cities with a population of one million people. We see 15 billion rubles of damage and 120 thousand people officially hospitalized due to fractures during one winter across Russia. If we take into account those who have not gone to the hospital, but have serious bruises, then we have a catastrophic situation only in terms of injured pedestrians. These are the conclusions made by the Financial University under the Government of Russia, which recently made economic calculations on this subject.
The situation on the roads is the same. It has been statistically proven that snow and ice increases the number of accidents by 2-3 times. In some cities, every second accident is caused by ice on the road. These accidents could be prevented.
Another aspect is the quality of life. The global automobilization is growing, and Russia is no exception. Downtime in traffic jams also causes economic loss and discomfort. People want to move quickly on the roads whatever the weather. How to do this is not a simple question. “Just remove the snow,” as people often write on social networks, but it is not at all as easy as it seems. It is the art of bringing the equipment on roads in time, not one or two vehicles, but sometimes up to 10-15 units of different equipment, which would both remove the snow, and would not stop traffic in the city. How to predict the weather and treat the streets in a right time, so that it is not too late to prevent accidents, but also not too early, so that the materials have time to react and are not blown away by the wind or spread by the car wheels. There are many more such nuances that are not obvious to an uninitiated person.
Not only the traffic safety, but the environmental issue is also important. World Health Organization’s research has shown that urban dust is the cause of one in eight deaths on the planet. Recently, doctors have found a link between the degree of air dustiness and the incidence of COVID. In dusty cities, the number of cases is higher, and the consequences of the disease are more serious.
Although the issue of cleanliness of the city and dust is a complex matter involving a sound arrangement of lawns, reduction of emissions from industrial enterprises and boiler houses, a ban on studded tires in the off-season, deicing materials are also an important factor in this problem. On average, each large city uses about 60-90 thousand tons of various anti-icing agents per season. The task to be solved is how to make these products the most environmentally friendly, so that they produce less dust and dirt and fulfill their function of melting ice effectively.
Our company has been studying this issue from different angles for over 10 years. Before launching any product in the market, we conduct numerous studies in our own research laboratory and at government institutions for determining its impact on soil, infrastructure, and water. We check how it can affect human health and skin. After that, based on the recommendation of scientists, we select the most effective, but at the same time safe and economically sound formulas, which are given Bionord trade name.
- That is, Bionord is a collective image of all the best solutions is in terms of fighting ice?
- Yes. All the most advanced and effective developments are gathered under Bionord trade name. Most of them are deicing agents for different surfaces. We are currently working on a crucial problem of icing on railway vehicles and rooftops. Clients come to us with non-trivial tasks, for example, for a solution to battle ice in industrial refrigerators. We managed to successfully solve it. Last year, we saw another difficulty that cities faced: snowless winters with a dusty cloud over the urban roads, when it is impossible to wash the street because of cold weather. We performed a number of field tests and developed Bionord Anti-Dust, which works down to -10C and removes dust from the road.
- Explain, please, what is the difference between your product and the sand-salt mixture?
- As usual, a sand-salt mixture consists of 90-80% of sand and 10-20% of salt. As I have already said, the sand produces dust and dirt that turn into clogged storm drains, dust clouds in the spring with an impressive part of chemical elements of the periodic table.
Bionord contains a mixture of mineral components that dissolves completely. That is, our material does not produce additional dirt in the city.
Moreover, to battle ice, you need about 350 g/m2 of a sand-salt mixture, while the required quantity of Bionord is about 35 g/m2. That is, we not only ease the dust load by tens of thousands of tons, but also reduce the consumption of deicing materials by 10 times.
- They say that reagents can corrode the body of a car…
- Anything that comes into contact with air and is prone to rust once will rust. The question is how soon it would be. Indeed, some substances can accelerate corrosion. We have reduced the effect of Bionord on metal by half in comparison with technical salt, which is also used in sand-salt mixtures. The impact of a number of Bionord's advanced formulations is comparable to that of tap water. In addition, since it is completely soluble, it lacks the negative abrasive effect that sand and crushed stone have. Sand and gravel under the wheels cause chips and scratches to the paint coat, which protects the car from rust. Bionord has no such effect.
- How profitable is using Bionord? Sand with salt seems to be a fairly inexpensive means of fighting ice.
- The Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation has thoroughly studied this issue. Speaking about road maintenance in winter, you need to take into account a number of factors: not only the direct costs of purchasing the material, but also the costs of distributing it, removing it in the spring, and restoring storm sewers. The choice of deicing agent will also affect the speed of cleaning roads and the quantity of equipment contractors need to have to meet national standards. All this factors together affect the level of accidents and injuries. So, if we compare all these data, our materials do not increase the cost of maintaining 1 m2 of road, but allow to reduce the cleaning time by 2-3 times, increase its efficiency and lower the accident rate. This fact is proved not only by our calculations, but also by the official statistics of the traffic police and the Ministry of Health. In cities where Bionord is used, the winter accident rate is reduced by at least a quarter, and the number of pedestrian injuries caused by falls on ice becomes 3 times lower. That is, you get better cleaning quality and improved safety for the same money.
- Do your focus on large consumers of Bionord products?
- As I said, Bionord is a trade name that covers more than a dozen different formulas aimed at different climatic conditions and applications. Therefore, our products are used in a wide variety of territories, such as Red Square in Moscow or the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Olympic facilities in Sochi, airports, large auto concerns, seaports and zoos.
However, slippery streets and courtyards cause problems for every resident. You will definitely feel all the "delights" of the sudden rush of winter outside your doorstep. Therefore, we develop products designed for individuals, such as the owners of cottages and summer houses. With our help, people can deal with ice both on a citywide scale and locally within a household.
- Where can homeowners buy your products?
- Bionord products are available in chain stores of Komus, Megastroy, Armada Stroy, Leroy Merlin. You can also order it through our online store. By the way, with the first cold weather and precipitation in Moscow, a rush to Bionord began and all the products were swept away in a few hours.
- Do you work only with Russian consumers?
- No. Today, the Ural Plant of Deicing Materials supplies advanced deicing materials to 35 cities of Russia and Kazakhstan. This year, we began to supply our products to Belarus. At the Winter Congress in Tampere, Finland, which took place in February 2020, Bionord caused a furor among Scandinavian road services and environmentalists. Thanks to many years of scientific research, we have developed such recipes that are much safer for the environment and better in technological characteristics than the reagents that are used in Scandinavia. So, the interest in our developments is growing, since the matter of safe movement in winter is important everywhere where precipitation falls at subzero temperatures. And the specialists of our company are highly experienced in dealing with it.