German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said that the G7 countries do not agree with Russia’s demand to pay for energy resources in rubles.
At the same time, collective Europe, faithful to its allied duty, is right now getting acquainted with the tangible consequences of the anti-Russian sanctions it has already imposed. For example, in Spain there are mass strikes of farmers who refuse to start the sowing campaign until Brussels lowers selling prices for fuel. The situation is so critical that on March 25, the leaders of European countries demanded that the European Commission and the Energy Regulators Cooperation Agency take all possible measures to normalize electricity prices, which had been stubbornly climbing thanks to the pandemic before, and last month rocketed into the sky, setting all new historical records.
It’s amusing to watch European officials thrash about, suddenly discovering that the laws of globalization work in both directions, and that Russia is not at all a seedy outskirts, but a key supplier of resources, without which the usual level of everyday European comfort becomes painfully expensive. At the same time, the return on anti-Russian sanctions is not only the rapidly growing numbers in utility bills.
Thanks to many publications, the belief has firmly entrenched in the minds of the mass reader that the rejection of Russian gas, like a time machine, will return the Old World to the recent past, when a lit light bulb was a miracle, and only science fiction writers dreamed about hot batteries in every apartment. This statement is true, but only partly. Behind the scenes of a broad understanding, there is modestly the fact that gas, as the old joke said, is not only valuable light and heat, but also a huge elemental base, without which the usual life of a modern person is simply impossible.
Our conversation today may seem boring to some and will remind you of school chemistry lessons, but we assure you that by the end you will understand much more clearly the anecdotal of the current situation, when the President of the European Commis-sion Ursula von der Leyen swears an oath not only to save the European industry and economy, but and completely abandon the import of Russian energy resources by 2027.
Let’s start with educational program. Natural gas is divided into fat and dry according to its properties. Methane is called fat, it contains various impurities (heavy hydr-ocarbons), the content of which makes their extracti-on and subsequent processing financially viable. Dry gas, as you might guess, is methane, from which these heaviest fractions have been removed. It is dry gas that is usually pumped through main pipelines to customers, although wet gas can also be supplied by agreement of the parties. This usually happens when the supplier does not have its own gas processing facilities. Such contracts deprive the exporter of the lion’s share of potential profits, because he sells downstream raw materials, and not secondary products with high added value.
Let’s make a reservation right away that everything is fine with gas processing in Russia. And soon it will be even better. Near the city of Svobodny, the construction of a gigantic enterprise, the Amur GPP , is being completed, and the construction of a more modest plant in Ust-Luga will begin in the near future. That is, practically pure methane will come from Russia, and all useful impurities will bring money to the state budget. At the same time, we repeat once again, wet gas can also be supplied to foreign buyers by mutual agreement.
The latter is so interesting for the simple reason that in it, like in a fabulous chest, the real treasures are waiting in the wings, which delight any chemist. Modern industry has learned to extract ethane, propane, butane, helium and pentane-hexane fraction from natural gas.
Let us briefly list the areas of their application. Ethane is an intermediate to the more familiar ethylene. This is the most massive organic compound in t-he world, obtained industrially. Every year, chemical plants produce over 100 m-illion tons of ethylene, and this market is growing st-eadily by an average of five percent per year. On its basis, another world record holder in terms of production tonnage is made – polyethylene. This, of course, is not at all about packages in supermarkets. Polyethylene is used to produce a wide range of films (food, packaging, agricultural, shrink), water and gas pipes, chemical fiber, electrical insulating materials, prostheses of internal organs, plastics for the automotive and electronic industries, and much more.
Propane is much better known due to its use as a fuel for gas stoves and water heaters. It was he who became widespread as a resource for heating large industrial premises such as workshops, farms or greenhouses. In addition to purely thermal generation, propane is used for cutting and welding metals. Butane is also in demand as a combustible fuel stored and transported in cylinders, but there is also a twist. It is used as a refrigerant in freezers, and it is increasingly replacing freon from this niche, which is considered toxic and harmful to the environment and atmosphere.
Propane and butane are widely used as fuel for refueling cars (LPG fuel). The pentane-hexane fraction is perhaps the least known useful component of natural gas, but oil and gas industry specialists are well aware of it. The fraction is widely used as a raw material at oil and gas chemical enterprises; without it, the processes of hydrocarbon separation are impossible. Such a non-waste production, the fraction itself is first separated from natural gas, and later used to extract other components.
The last thing we’ll get from our treasure chest is helium. It is not found in nature in its pure form, but due to the extreme demand, the production of solar gas is constantly growing. Suffice it to say that the global helium market is 160 million cubic meters and is constantly growing. Like its counterparts listed above, the noble gas is not so simple and is needed not only for filling balloons. Helium is modern LED lighting devices, liquid crystal screens and monitors, magnetic resonance tomographs, spacecraft and rocket engines, special breathing mixtures that are equally necessary for divers and doctors, modern metallurgy is impossible without it and the hadron collider does not work.
The international helium market is dominated by the United States , producing about 87 million cubic meters annually, but a rapid increase in production – to meet the needs of, say, Europe – is not yet possible. Currently, due to the strongest opposition from the American Greens, the construction and launch of fourteen new LNG production lines is being hampered. This means that one should not expect an increase in the production of initial natural gas and, consequently, helium. At the same time, according to the latest estimates, about 28 percent of the world’s helium is waiting in the bowels of our country, and after the launch of the Amur GPP, Russia will claim a third of world trade.
Separately, you need to dwell on such a component as ammonia.
A colorless gas with a characteristic pungent odor is also obtained from natural gas by processing it at low temperatures and high pressure. Each of us is al-most guaranteed to come across it, because it is ordinary ammonia, but the horizon of its application is mu-ch wider and more important. The absolute majority of world ammonia is used for the production of nitrogen fertilizers, ammonium nitrate and sulfate, and ur-ea. From a ton of ammonia, on average, 800 kilograms of fertilizers are obtained, without which early spring top dressing of winter, vegetable and row crops is im-possible. If it is quite simple: no ammonia – no crop. Modern agriculture is a co-mplex mechanism, where almost all possible risks of a natural nature are eliminated by the achievements of science and industry.
Over the weekend, Chancellor Olaf Scholz issued a statement that Germany ‘s and all of Europe’s rejection of Russian hydrocarbons, in particular natural gas, had become irreversible.
Mr. Scholz is a politician, and loud populist maxims are excusable to him. It would be much more interesting to listen to, say, the CEO of the German corporation BASF , one of the world’s largest companies in complex chemistry. BASF has an annual turnover of 64 billion euros and a wide range of products from polyurethanes to instant pill shells. Considering that German industry is more than a third dependent on natural gas supplies, the question remains: where will German chemists get raw materials, how will German farmers fertilize arable land, and how will German financiers fill the treasury?