Chemists eager to move mountains

Man-made mountains of over 20 million tonnes of waste phosphogypsum, dumped next to Gomel Chemical Plant, have long been spoiling the urban landscape and the environment, but soon will be processed into useful products
By Anton Pimenov

Sadly, there are fears that the waste has been poisoning ground water and is capable of being airborne. Now, a Russian investor, DipAspekt, is keen to process the chemical, which occupies almost one hundred hectares and has been gathering for four decades.

In the past, local inventors and Chinese partners have suggested ways of tackling the problem, from use of the product in the production of building materials and road construction, to creating a nutritional supplement for livestock. However, results have failed to live up to expectations. In 2008, a Spanish-Belgian Company was keen to invest 45 million Euros in processing Gomel’s phosphogypsum but the project failed to take flight.

In fact, phosphogypsum dumps are found in many countries: often larger in scale. A good solution is sought by all and, theoretically, there are about 100 techniques available for processing. Unfortunately, none are straightforward, and can bring their own environmental problems.

The Russian investor foresees using the waste as the main raw ingredient in permanent plaster timbering, processing efficiently, without damaging the environment. Production would take place next to the deposits, on the site of the chemical plant, to avoid the need for transportation. The site is already located within the Gomel-Raton free economic zone, offering certain advantages. Around $16m is to be invested, with one-tenth already spent on the purchase of a workshop.

DipAspekt is confident that the potential market is huge, with three-quarters of production planned for export. The Chairman of the Gomel State Control Committee, Alexander Yakobson, has quizzed the investor as to why it has chosen Gomel rather than the much larger dumps near Russian Voskresensk. The answer is simple: the free economic zone offers preferential terms. The first stage of production is to be launched by July 2014, with capacity to eventually rise to one million tonnes per year. Currently, waste is being dumped at a rate of nearly two thousand tonnes per day, or 650,000 tonnes per year.
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