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Official website of the President of Russia

Transcripts   /

Conversation with winners of the Presidential Prize in Science and Innovation for Young Scientists

February 8, 2023, The Kremlin, Moscow

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Where shall we begin? Shall we start with oil? Please tell us more.

I know that these fields pose a problem for Tatneft, in particular, which operates there: both sulfur and hard-to-recover reserves. As far as I understand, you have been working in this area to ensure the long-term use of all these deposits. By injecting? Injecting what?

Irek Mukhamatdinov: Yes, Mr President.

It is no secret that the share of light oil is decreasing in Russia, while the share of hard-to-recover high-viscosity oil is growing, and, according to our estimates, in the near future this will be relevant for all oil producing companies both in Russia and in other countries. According to various estimates, ten percent of the world’s reserves are located in Russia.

We propose extracting high-viscosity oil using special catalysts, in other words, to start oil refining underground using steam heat and special catalysts.

Vladimir Putin: Start the oil refining process underground?

Irek Mukhamatdinov: Yes, in other words, to start the oil refining process underground.

Vladimir Putin: Thinning it down there?

Irek Mukhamatdinov: Yes. When adding these catalysts, oil begins to flow, so it can be extracted, pumped to the surface, and the quality of oil increases.

The economic effect is obvious. When extracting oil using this method, it is possible to increase production by 10–20 percent, depending on the deposit conditions and oil properties. At the same time, oil is enriched in lighter components while the share of harmful ones such as sulfur, heavy and radioactive metals decreases. Oil does not need to be additionally prepared for injection into the pipeline system. Accordingly, by doing this, we can save another 30 percent in the cost of extracted raw materials. And the catalysts themselves account for less than one percent in the cost of raw materials.

Such important discoveries were made possible by the Rational Development of the Planet’s Liquid Hydrocarbon Reserves world-class scientific centre created at our university. There we use not only imported, but also domestic equipment, and create some unique installations, too.

Vladimir Putin: Other countries have oil products like this. Venezuela's oil is also very heavy. Are you familiar with their experience? What do they do, how do they produce it?

Irek Mukhamatdinov: Yes, they also use steam injection method. We simply suggest adding catalyst complexes to steam injection.

What sets us apart from other producers is that we have already run our catalyst complexes through field trials.

We have carried out five field trials at the fields in Tatarstan, the Samara Region and in Cuba. One injection was made at the Ashalchinskoye field, which is being developed by Tatneft. Two injections were made jointly with Zarubezhneft and Cupet at the Boca de Jaruco field in Cuba. We carried out two more injections in the Samara Region in partnership with the RITEK company. The result was quite impressive. I can safely say our catalysts are effective.

Vladimir Putin: Are you removing sulfur?

Irek Mukhamatdinov: Yes, our latest lab tests and field trials have made it clear that we can do more to cut sulfur content, and we also have methods for using catalysts under electromagnetic exposure.

Vladimir Putin: How much work needs to be done to remove sulfur? Will it be necessary to do more processing on this oil before it can be mixed with other grades and pumped into pipelines?

Irek Mukhamatdinov: There will be no need for additional processing.

An active form is created when we inject the catalysts. The sulfur in heavy oil helps create this active form. In other words, metal sulfides and oxides are formed and adsorbed on the stratum, and the oil is chemically transformed.

Vladimir Putin: Great. This is very important.

Irek Mukhamatdinov: Thank you.

I think our breakthroughs will help us achieve technological sovereignty in the oil industry.

Vladimir Putin: As you may be aware, in the absence of this technology, we even had to, at one point, offer preferential treatment to companies that produce sulfureous oil, including the companies in Tatarstan.

Irek Mukhamatdinov: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: Great. This is now being used, correct?

Irek Mukhamatdinov: Yes, we have completed five field trials, and more are planned, and companies are interested in it.

Vladimir Putin: Great. Congratulations. Thank you. This is an important, practical result.

You said Russia’s light oil reserves are gradually depleting, but Eastern Siberia and the shelf must still have [reserves].

Irek Mukhamatdinov: This is true.

Vladimir Putin: What was your research project about, river flows?

Alexander Osadchiyev: River flows indeed. In general, I focus on various oceanological issues in the Russian Arctic including river flows, the inflow of warm Atlantic waters from the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean.

It is no secret that the Arctic is changing markedly now. Its ice conditions are changing, and it is very important for us to do this, it is very important to figure out how it will continue to change in the future, in order to prepare for these changes and predict them.

I would like to raise an important point. It is critically important for our research to carry out shipboard measurements, and such measurements are regularly taken in Russia. Unfortunately, we have some difficulties with access to those data, because this is done by various organisations including academic institutions, federal agencies such as Roshydromet and the Federal Agency for Fisheries, and mineral resource companies also do this as part of their environmental monitoring. An extensive array of information has been collected, but it is usually not available to individual participants in this process.

This issue was raised and addressed in the early 2000s. In particular, Roshydromet established a data collection system, but it is outdated and needs to be modernised now. Resource companies submit their data to the Federal Agency for Mineral Resources, but we do not have access to that data either. We believe that creating an integrated system for collecting all data on state research in the Arctic and in general, in the Russian seas, would be a good and the right thing to do.

It is very important to have access to the data, so that researchers – representatives of the academic community and universities, as well as Roshydromet workers and corporate researchers – could use them, that every participant could add their own in a timely manner, all in a good database relying on modern technology and easily accessible.

I would like to touch on one more aspect – the state of our research fleet. We have enough ships, but most of them are 35, 40 years old, or even older. This puts certain limitations on repairs; we have regrettable emergencies from time to time. The problem is that scientists’ research interests are far wider than the fleet’s capabilities.

Two new research vessels with an unrestricted navigation area are now under construction, and we pin great hopes on them. We hope that they will begin operation in the next few years, and we will start using them. It is very important for us.

These vessels I am talking about will be used not only by research fellows, but also by students studying oceanology. Training research personnel and engaging young people in science is also a priority for us. We have created the Floating University programme, which provides additional training for students from all over Russia.

We select the most talented, the most motivated students, and send them to join research expeditions on ships, to work under the guidance of leading scientists. After the programme, they can continue doing research or work in industry – this is useful for industry as well. This programme helps us a lot, in particular, it creates a solid foundation for us to look into the future with confidence.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Osadchiyev, regarding the two vessels, they are currently under construction. Although there were some financial issues, it appears that the Government has also resolved them. I will discuss this issue once again with the people who are working on it.

In general, you are right, of course. We get a lot of information, but it is scattered throughout various agencies (to be frank, I did not have a sense of this) and probably cannot be used for research purposes. We will certainly work on this, too.

You are talking about creating a joint database: it must have certain security-related restrictions. However, we need to create it, and we will certainly work on this.

What are your thoughts, based on your research, as to how quickly will the Northern Sea Route open for navigation and for how many months?

Alexander Osadchiyev: This is a good question. To be honest, nobody has the answer.

Vladimir Putin: Not even you?

Alexander Osadchiyev: Not even me, and it is very hard to predict this process.

The great inertia of ice conditions is a positive aspect. It means that if the amount of sea ice decreases, it can’t quickly “bounce back.” For example, ice formations in the Russian Arctic have decreased by half.

Vladimir Putin: I am sorry to interrupt you, but some of your colleagues have told me that the amount of ice decreases in some areas but increases in others.

Alexander Osadchiyev: No, the amount of ice is declining on the whole.

Vladimir Putin: It is declining.

Alexander Osadchiyev: On the whole, yes, it is shrinking.

Let me give you some historical background. In the early 2000s, sea ice formations shrank drastically. They remained stable in the 1980s and the 1990s. However, they shrank dramatically in the early 2000s and hit an all-time low in 2012. All researchers started saying that they will continue to shrink and that by 2020 or by the summer of 2030, the entire Arctic would be ice-free.

This did not happen, and the ice situation stabilised. In effect, the 2012 predictions and models did not come true. The current ice situation remains stable. People expected ice formations to shrink, but this did not happen. We should therefore be careful with this issue.

However, everything continues to shrink, and the amount of ice is dwindling. Additional ice layers will accumulate on larger surviving old ice formations. However, if old ice melts and shrinks – and it did shrink dramatically, decreasing several-fold – its original area will not be restored quickly.

The academic community agrees unanimously that sea ice formations will continue to shrink. However, it is very hard to say anything about the intensity of this process and specific ice-free periods; this is a very complicated issue. This is just like making a weather forecast: it is possible to predict the weather for the next three weeks, but three-month forecasts are impossible, owing to highly complicated dynamic processes.

Everything is changing, even right now.

Vladimir Putin: It depends not only on river flows – it depends on global currents too.

Alexander Osadchiyev: You are absolutely right, and this also depends on atmospheric circulation.

More substantial research projects help us understand this process better. We are trying to provide the most accurate forecasts and to expand their time-frame to the greatest possible extent. We are doing our best. We have certainly made headway because we are taking numerous measurements: we have good coverage of the Arctic.

Hopefully, ice formations will shrink, and navigation will expand along the Northern Sea Route.

Vladimir Putin: You said reliable weather forecasts can be made for anywhere from three days to three weeks and tend to become a problem beyond that timeframe. What is your forecast for the next several years regarding ice shrinking in the Arctic? Will it continue?

Alexander Osadchiyev: I think it will, yes.

I think the question is as follows: will there be much less ice in the coming years and will the Arctic be completely ice-free in 2050 or will the ice cover stabilise at its current level, will the Northern Sea Route remain open to traffic for a couple of months a year, and will there be completely ice-free passage along the Northern Sea Route. This is what the situation is like. Few people believe there will be more ice.

Vladimir Putin: There are people who believe that, though.

Alexander Osadchiyev: Of course, there are.

Vladimir Putin: They believe that we are past the peak of global warming and a gradual fall in global temperatures is about to begin.

Alexander Osadchiyev: These are complicated questions. Nature does not ask us for our opinion and does as it pleases, but let us hope that…

Vladimir Putin: But your research… You studied Siberian river discharge, correct?

Alexander Osadchiyev: Yes, the great Siberian rivers.

Vladimir Putin: Ob, Yenisei, Lena?

Alexander Osadchiyev: Absolutely correct.

Vladimir Putin: What was the outcome of your research?

Alexander Osadchiyev: The outcome is as follows. Since there is less ice, the spread of river discharge into the sea has changed a lot, because previously ice shielded this discharge against the wind. The discharge forms a shallow sea surface layer with depth of, say, 10, 15, or 20 metres, and there are tens, or even hundreds of metres of sea beneath it.

Vladimir Putin: Is it relatively warm water?

Alexei Osadchiyev: Yes, it is warm water. On the one hand, it melts ice in the spring and summer causing floods and, on the other hand, fresher water freezes faster later in the year. We call the areas affected by river discharge river plumes. The speed of ice formation in the autumn depends on the size of these areas.

Since there is less ice, the season during which wind impacts this discharge tends to become longer and the discharge is not shielded by ice. It can spread under the ice, but ice can melt, too, since the wind affects it. Accordingly, ice-free Arctic conditions cause river discharge to change flow patterns.

We are studying the spread patterns and whether the areas covered will expand or shrink, but I have come to the following conclusions. In the Kara Sea, this process is stable, but in the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea, the area of impact of river plumes, of this fresh water, is expanding. Studies showed that river plumes are now present in places where they had never been seen before.

Overall, it is a complex issue. Certain things promote ice formation, other things hinder it. That is what we are working on.

Vladimir Putin: The Ministry of Transport should take a closer look at these studies. Why? These studies have practical importance, just like with extracting heavy oil. This has to do with pilotage along the Northern Sea Route and our territories, including the special economic zone and our coastal waters, to name a few. We should look into that.

The best Northern Sea Route itinerary passes through our waters. It is the best itinerary, but depending on developments, it is important for us to know the future location of the optimal itinerary.

Thank you.

Alexander Osadchiyev: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Timofeyeva, please.

Irina Timofeyeva: Our research team is developing environmentally friendly ways to detect various toxicants, such as pesticides, antibiotics, heavy metals, various hydrocarbons in a wide variety of objects of analysis.

Vladimir Putin: In food?

Irina Timofeyeva: Yes, in food, as well as in the environment, including in water, and in man-made and biological objects.

In our works, we are guided by the principles of green analytical chemistry, such as, for example, avoiding the use of toxic solvents and replacing them with natural components. Actually, finding such natural and environmentally friendly components is on the list of our research objectives.

Another principle we adhere to is the automation and miniaturisation of chemical analysis, which can significantly reduce the consumption of chemical reagents and, in general, the amount of waste from chemical analysis. This has a positive effect on both the results of the experiments themselves and the environment in general, because we are well aware of how much waste laboratories produce as a result of any experiment in the food and other industries, at educational institutions, medical centres and so on.

I would also like to say that what we do involves mostly fundamental theoretical research, but some of our projects have an applied aspect, which is confirmed by both implementation acts and patents.

I can cite an example: many construction companies use our projects, our certified methods of quality control of building materials, for example, in St Petersburg. This helps them erect safer buildings.

I would also like to say that it probably matters for any scientist to see the results of their work, its practical application in real life, not only as publications in top-rated journals. In fact, this is what we are currently doing.

Vladimir Putin: I understand that Rospotrebnadzor and all kinds of food research laboratories are interested in the results of your work?

Irina Timofeyeva: That is right.

Vladimir Putin: Is this a complicated procedure?

Irina Timofeyeva: Yes, it is very difficult to certify new methods now, but of course we are working, striving for this and trying to introduce our own methods.

Andrei Shishov: We also teach this to our students.

I mean, validation and verification of the methodology for further implementation in real life is a complicated and laboursome process; it often takes a lot of time and paperwork, registration formalities, documents and things like that.

Clearly, as a fundamental university, we find it more interesting to do laboratory work, to create new methods, to explore phenomena, than to work with documents.

Naturally, there are special bodies and organisations that deal with this, and they provide training courses to us, or their visiting lecturers talk about various ways of implementing and optimising our procedures.

Because, for example, as my colleague Irina has said, we work with a wide scope of objects for analysis: we have worked with oil, with natural water, with food, and building materials. Sometimes it is quite difficult to implement some of our ideas, to follow through all the way to their actual application.

I have one good example of our projects involving building materials, where the developers themselves reached out to us with specific problems: look, we erect buildings, and it smells of ammonia inside new buildings, please find what it is. And we solved it, and had it all prepared, implemented and used.

But most often during research, we find some new effects or phenomena and then we try to propose new methods and introduce them in technology.

Vladimir Putin: This is a very important practical matter. Of course, fundamental research… But, as your senior colleagues say, all research is in fact applied research, only with so-called theoretical research, it takes longer to actually implement your findings than for applied research and its results.

But what you do should certainly have direct practical application, because it is not good that a new building smells of ammonia, and there are other things that have no strong smell or anything else that humans could sense, but are a health hazard nonetheless.

Therefore, in this sense, if you find new methods for the study of materials and foods, then of course, it is necessary to introduce new standards and, accordingly, new methods that would allow these standards to be ensured.

But that has always been the case, hasn’t it? Unfortunately, historically, it always took us a long time to get from research to implementation. We will probably talk about this later today at a meeting of the Council for Science and Education.

Andrei Shishov: This is an essential link between practical efforts and fundamental science. I know this issue was brought up long ago at the Seliger Forum back in 2010; we presented our research, and this subject was discussed there as well. We were developing and proposing various approaches on ways for scientists to convey their ideas to business and ways for business or those in charge of technological processes to ask the right question and set the right task for scientists to solve it.

This is indeed a very important aspect, which must always be supervised and which, sadly, requires a great deal of time, effort and knowledge, and it is not always taught at major universities – that is, economic, legal and other components.

Yet, we have quite interesting options at our university, which I know are available at many other universities as well; these include a so-called start-up contest. A first- or even second-year student can present a concept to win the contest, receive funding from the university, and convert this concept into reality.

Many students prepare their graduation project by presenting a start-up; they graduate from university, launch their own business based at the university, or get a patent and set up their own small innovation business. So, such efforts are definitely made.

Vladimir Putin: This is great.

As I understand, you have already gained practical experience in the construction field, but this is the sole area so far, isn’t it?

Andrei Shishov: This is probably one of the most impressive examples.

We were approached by our water utility company to do a fairly simple job. They made a new water purification filter, and they needed to assess its fidelity to find out whether the filter itself was washed into the water during the filtration process. They gave us the source filter material; we conducted a study and developed a water quality control procedure for it. It was a minor study but it was applied to practice. So, such examples definitely exist.

Vladimir Putin: Once again, food research is hugely important. If it could be implemented in laboratories and then applied in daily life, the outcome of your research would be immense, both its economic and financial aspects. Just imagine millions of people having an opportunity to purchase devices to detect pesticides or other harmful ingredients in food.

Irina Timofeyeva: We are currently working on this; there is a grant designated to this end.

Vladimir Putin: Excellent. Have you received a grant?

Irina Timofeyeva: We have a substantial general purpose grant for the research group.

Alexander Shishov: For the laboratory, for food analysis.

Vladimir Putin: Oh, I see.

Irina Timofeyeva: We have submitted applications for new grants in this field and are now waiting for results.

Vladimir Putin: I think this is important.

Thank you.

Mr. Fisenko please share with us what you can.

Ivan Fisenko: My work involves developing technologies for testing technically complex devices for effects of natural and artificial electromagnetic exposure. Obviously, this has to do with the defence industry, but it is also highly relevant for the civilian sector; our organisation, a leader in this field, is also the only one that conducts testing specifically for electromagnetic effects. My supervisor reported to you during the restricted part of the Army 2022 forum and presented our prospects.

We have vast experience in testing that involves reproducing electromagnetic exposure and measuring response from tested objects, as well as developing methods to protect these objects from electromagnetic effects. Due to an extensive device range and characteristics, we have a lot of experience and plenty of specialists, as well as an advanced test base, which is very important.

Now we are working jointly with our colleagues, with a section, Defence of National Infrastructure from the Effects of Natural and Artificial Electromagnetic Exposure, set up under the auspices of Rosatom State Corporation’s science and technology council and nuclear weapons complex.

I am the secretary of this section, which includes a large number of leading scientists from federal nuclear centres and Rosatom State Corporation and specialists from the Ministry of Energy, as well as from different institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences. They raised questions regarding the relevance of this issue, which is now highly important as we are facing new challenges and must be prepared for them: our infrastructure includes critical and essential facilities, and work is now underway.

The section’s work has resulted in a proposal to develop a strategy, update it, and promptly begin to consider important aspects and respond to them. I would like to ask you for permission to report to you, or to the Presidential Executive Office, on the outcome of the section’s work and on the ways in which we are going to respond. This is highly important.

This issue requires special attention from our country’s leadership and we believe it should be closely monitored. We need to keep the finger on the pulse and be prepared for any challenge.

Vladimir Putin: I remember the matters your supervisor spoke about, and I will definitely look into them. You are involved in this on an ongoing basis, and there should be a response from the government and state authorities – we are well aware of this and will return to this.

Ivan Fisenko: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

I would like to wish you success, and once again I congratulate you on receiving the prize. It is not the badges that matter, but your achievements and results. I can see that they bring you satisfaction, and your work – particularly its outcome – brings you contentment. Laureate badges are simply recognition from your colleagues; they are in recognition of your achievements. As I said in my opening remarks, I am confident there is more to follow.

I wish you every success. Thank you very much.

February 8, 2023, The Kremlin, Moscow