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August 31, 2022    Online edition "Realnoye vremya"


Evolution of bitumen: strategically important product by TAIF-NK


Indispensable link of the road pavement, reliable waterproofing for numerous residential and industrial facilities, roofing materials and much more: all these are bitumen.

 

Tatarstan is one of the regions of the Russian Federation actively developing the road network. Hundreds of kilometers of new roads are built annually, thousands of kilometers of existing federal and regional traffic arteries, municipal and local roads are repaired, reconstructed and restored. And almost everywhere, where work on road network development is being carried out, bitumen produced by the TAIF-NK Crude Oil Processing Plant is used. The journalist of Realnoe Vremya having visited the enterprise, found out about how and when the own bitumen production appeared in Tatarstan, how it developed, what products are produced today and for what purposes. Read the details in the material.

FROM A BIRD'S-EYE VIEW

If you look at Tatarstan from a height, it immediately becomes clear: the republic is really a region with an active developing economy. Moreover, in a variety of directions: agriculture, animal husbandry, construction, oil processing, chemistry, petrochemistry, automobile, aircraft, helicopter, shipbuilding, trade and many other industries. Hundreds of kilometers of roads are built, reconstructed and repaired in Tatarstan annually.

The booming economy needs logistics — numerous roads and highways. All this thousand-kilometer economy requires constant attention: construction, expansion, repair. The work is in full swing. In 2022, it is planned to invest almost 174 billion rubles in the development of the road sector of the Republic of Tatarstan, which, by the way, is 4,6 times more than in 2021.

Most of these funds, 101 billion rubles, will be allocated for the construction of a new high-speed highway M12 Moscow-Kazan. In addition, a direct participant in these large-scale processes is TAIF-NK oil refining complex, which is part of TAIF Group. And we are talking not only about gasoline and diesel fuel for special vehicles, but also, to a much greater extent, about the supply of high-quality road bitumen to key contractors of road construction processes that meets the most stringent requirements of GOST RF standards, standards of the member countries of the Eurasian Customs Union and international quality standards.

 

Crude Oil Processing Plant

The journalist of Realnoe Vremya went to TAIF-NK Crude Oil Processing Plant to learn how bitumen is produced, or more precisely, a wide range of different bitumen and polymer-bitumen binders (this innovative material will be discussed later), developed and produced for different applications and in various climatic conditions and load levels.

— If you look into history, back in the early 2000s, the Government of the Republic of Tatarstan assigned our Crude Oil Processing Plant the task of producing various grades of road and construction bitumen. The design of production began in 2005 and the equipment delivery began in 2006. In 2007, the Biturox Unit built using Austrian technology was put into operation, said Vladimir Lahomov, the Director of Crude Oil Processing Plant, who decided to conduct a tour for media representatives himself.

Director of Crude Oil Processing Plant, Vladimir Lahomov, himself undertook to conduct a tour of bitumen production for Realnoe Vremya.

Vladimir Vladimirovich knows his production, or rather, all the productions headed by him, inside and out: like the General Director of the Company and its Chief Engineer, he began his career in oil refining at the TAIF-NK JSC Crude Oil Processing Plant as an operator, Grade 5 as well as

— The first point in the production chain is the feedstock containers in which the mixture is prepared for Biturox. Depending on the formulation, part of the vacuum residue and part of the vacuum gas oil are fed into the reactor. And from the feedstock tank, the mixture is fed into the reactor by a feed pump," the Director of Crude Oil Processing Plant explained the fundamentals of technology.

The oxidation reactor is the heart of production. The technology itself is both simple and complex at the same time. Feedstock is a vacuum residue (a residual product after the processing of crude oil at the CDU-VDU-7) and vacuum gas oil. The oxidation procedure is also not as simple as it seems. Special mixers are constantly in working conditions.

Oxidation reactor is the heart of bitumen production.

- Due to this, a large contact area is created between the oxygen of the air and the oxidised feedstock. This technology and this reactor give the opportunity to more precisely adjust the quality parameters of the process, and, accordingly, to produce higher-quality bitumen, Alexey Khramov, the Chief Engineer of TAIF-NK JSC, explained the importance of this process. By the way, he began his professional career in oil refining at the Crude Oil Processing Plant.

The secret of the product quality and the acquisition by each bitumen grade of its own special properties required for certain operating conditions lies in the details: the composition of vacuum residue, mixing proportions, oxidation period, pressure and temperature, as well as the holding time of the mixture under special conditions for each grade of bitumen.

All stages of bitumen production at the Crude Oil Processing Plant are automated and controlled from the control room.

— There are many nuances in the production of bitumen. There is a special temperature condition and pressure. The responsibility is high. All processes in our production are automated. Control over the implementation of technological processes is carried out from the control room. Needless to say that an Automated Process Control System is used. The processes are controlled remotely from the control room, Vladimir Lakhomov told the journalist.

 

HOW IS FORMULATION BORN?

Customer focus is one of the foundations for the successful business in modern conditions. Everyone's requirements to bitumen are different: bitumen that is needed for laying the roadway or producing the roofing material in hot regions and countries should have completely different properties than those intended for the Central Russia, with seasonal temperature fluctuations in the range of more than 70 degrees. There are already their own requirements where frosts reign most of the year. For each request, TAIF-NK is ready to give its own formulation. Or develop something new.

— We always expand the range of our bitumen products in accordance with the requirements of new GOST, taking into account the requirements of our customers, so we can say that the initiators of the development of new bitumen grades are our customers.  There are cases when customers, both domestic and foreign, need bitumen with specific physical and chemical properties that differ from the standard requirements of GOST. Based on the experience that we already have, we conduct laboratory tests on the base of the central laboratory of the TAIF-NK Crude Oil Processing Plant, and then, when we are convinced of the stability of the conditions that laboratory tests show, we transfer production to the industrial unit. Thanks to the scientific approach, analysis of a large amount of accumulated data, including the hydrocarbon composition of the base mixtures, the operating modes of Biturox reactor, it is possible to quite accurately choose compositions, modes to produce high-quality bitumen according to the latest standards, including Superpave method, which becomes very popular in road construction now, Marat Idrisov, Deputy Head, Petrochemicals and Oil Refining, TAIF JSC explained to Realnoe Vremya’s journalist in an interview.

- The highly qualified staff of TAIF and TAIF-NK themselves develop the bitumen and PBB formulation, Marat Idrisov said.

He, having a PhD in Engineering precisely in bitumen materials, had a hand and put his knowledge to most formula of the grades produced in the plant today. More than ten grades of bitumen are produced in industrial-scale volumes.

— We receive a request. I analyze, develop formulations, oxidation conditions, formulations of feedstock and component stream mixing.  We test all these in the lab and after successful results, the technology is transferred to the industrial plant. Such an approach to formulation development for requirements of new GOST standards is seriously simplified because of using mathematical analysis methods of an enormous aggregation of data we have accumulated throughout the operation of Biturox, including our accumulated knowledge about the hydrocarbon composition of mixture components, chemical properties of oxidation and the impact of these factors on the quality of the finished product. We always try to use science to solve the applied tasks — there is no other way. In other words, highly qualified staff of TAIF and TAIF-NK fully cope with it on their own, without the involvement of third-party specialized scientific organizations and centers,” Marat Idrisov stressed.

Laboratory —a state within the state

The control over the process technology at all the stages from feedstock delivery to finished product shipment is the strictest. This is the work of the central lab of Crude Oil Processing Plant.

— The samples are sent to our central plant laboratory, where specialists analyze them and enter the indicators into the system. Process operators remotely see the results and, depending on the received data, they make a decision - how to correct the processes, if necessary, - Vladimir Lahomov emphasized.

All samples are submitted to the lab under the individual codes, which excludes any outside interference in the analysis procedure.

Everyone, with whom the journalist had opportunity to communicate when preparing the article, speaks with special respect about the laboratory and its staff, and especially about the Head of the Laboratory - Margarita Urmanova. And there are reasons for this:

— She is a woman with principles. She is practically accountable to none. She writes the truth as it is and then she will check it, the Director of the Crude Oil Processing Plant shared.  

The Head of the Laboratory welcomed the journalist in the workplace — in one of the departments, which are many here. And it is clear: everything that is used in the production and produced in the Crude Oil Processing Plant is examined and analyzed in detail here — from crude oil to the whole range of products: naphtha, sulphur, kerosene, diesel and jet fuel, bitumen and polymer bitumen binders. It needs a lot of equipment. But what needs more is experience. Lab staff constantly learn something new, improve their qualifications. No wonder this lab is considered one of the best in the republic. The competency was proven by a certificate. As for the fact that the central lab is sometimes called “a state within the state”...

— Requirements for accredited persons include impartiality, independence, competence and confidentiality. Therefore, nobody can influence our employees and our lab in general. The samples are encoded during the tests. Therefore, the lab assistant does not know what sample was received. The lab assistant knows that it is bitumen of some grade. This is enough for testing, - stresses Margarita Urmanova highlights.

Margarita Urmanova is at the head of central laboratory of TAIF-NK Crude Oil Processing Plant.

TAIF-NK’s management is generous with creating conditions that are needed to do research and analysis. When Realnoe Vremya’s journalist arrived, laboratory assistants were learning how to use the newly received equipment to determine bitumen density. Moreover, in the near future, another part of the equipment stock is expected to be retrofitted.

As for the creation of new grades, according to the Head of the laboratory, this process has been fine-tuned by years of work and extensive practice.

-                     We know the components involved in this formulation, the quality of these components. Therefore, we try to elaborate the formulation as quickly as possible and close to the final version, Margarita Urmanova notes. According to her, the testing of the formulation of a new grade can take a week.

 

50,000 TONNES A YEAR - ONLY FOR TATARSTAN ROADS

The design capacity of bitumen production on TAIF-NK Crude Oil Processing Plant allows producing more than 100,000 tons of bitumen a year. Moreover, for different needs.

- We can use this unit to produce road bitumen of different grades, construction bitumen, roofing bitumen. Everything depends on what the commercial service will order. Mainly road bitumen is now seasonally popular. Roads are actively built in Tatarstan,” said Vladimir Lakhomov

The Biturox unit allows producing a wide range of bitumen for various purposes.

According to the data received in reply to a request sent to the Tatarstan Ministry of Road and Transport, the road programme in Tatarstan annually covers at least 50 km in construction and reconstruction, repair and major repairs — more than 300 km. Also, over 310 streets and up to 120 km of municipal roads are put into normative condition. In addition, it is necessary to consider that 10 km is put into normative condition at the expense of the municipal road fund. To this should be added the mega construction projects as the M-12, the construction of the Big Kazan Ring, and it gets clear that a lot of bitumen is needed for such a scale. For instance, in 2021, the republic needed a total of 127,000 bitumen and 8,000 tons of polymer bitumen binder to perform the full range of works.

-       About 50,000 tons of bitumen produced in the Republic of Tatarstan by TAIF-NK JSC was used in 2021,” the ministry told Realnoe Vremya. Moreover, they stressed that the quality of TAIF-NK’s bitumen completely meets the requirements.

 

According to the Ministry of Roads and Transport of the Republic of Tatarstan, in 2021, TAIF-NK JSC supplied about 50 thous. tons of bitumen for construction of roads in the republic.

The fact that TAIF-NK bitumen is really in demand and in a very serious way, you can easily be convinced if you move to the finished products’ discharge area. There is barely time for the huge intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) to be filled up. There is constant pandemonium under the loading rack: bitumen tank trucks replace each other, putting up the funnels of huge containers under the thick pipes of measuring hoppers.

Around the clock, there is a real pandemonium under the loading rack of bitumen production area at the Crude Oil Processing Plant of TAIF-NK JSC.

— Almost the entire volume of sales of the bitumen we have produced today is carried out on the domestic market. And the Republic of Tatarstan is the main sales market. Our key buying companies are Alekseevskdorstroy and Tatavtodor. However, we sell our products not only to end-users. Any company can participate in the arranged tenders. This is either an electronic platform "Online Contract", or SPIMEX - Saint-Petersburg International Mercantile Exchange. In fact, our products are available to all customers," explained Askar Sulteev, Head of the Commercial Department of TAIF-NK JSC.

Askar Sulteev: "Almost all the bitumen products of TAIF-NK JSC are entering the domestic market of Russia today."

Weighing of empty containers on wheels at the entrance, weighing before departure. The difference in weight is displayed on the operator's screen. For each transport waybills and the product passport are provided. It is strictly with it here. On the other side of the loading rack there are railway lines and it is possible to fill six railway tanks with bitumen at once. In such  a way Tatarstan bitumen is sent to other regions and countries.

— Bitumen is immediately sent from here to construction of roads. One of the main characteristics of the material is the temperature of bitumen with which it is poured. It must be delivered promptly. If the technology is followed, the newly built roads should "work" for 12 years," commented the director of the Crude Oil Processing Plant. And he added: — There is pride for my work. And not only for bitumen. Half of Tatarstan run on our diesel, planes fly on our jet fuel, therefore, you can be proud not only with bitumen. And all this is produced here — at the Crude Oil Processing Plant.

Immediately after loading, bitumen is sent to road construction facilities.

When the journalist asked "Why, if the bitumen quality is so high, roads in Tatarstan, and not only in the republic, need to be repaired so often," Vladimir Lahomov answered right away — he couldn't hold himself in:

— Bitumen is an important, but not the only component that determines the quality and durability of roads. A high-quality roadbed is up to 1.5 meters high with layers of crushed stone or concrete and asphalt concrete. Only the upper 10 centimeters of the highway are made using bitumen. And the bitumen content in the upper layers does not exceed an average of 5% by weight. As you can see, there is not much bitumen on the road, and the production technology of roads is complicated. It is at least incorrect to say that in Russia problems with the quality of roads are precisely because of the quality of bitumen shipped from refineries. Bitumen is applied onto the crushed stone and such a thin film of bitumen in the upper layer of a 1.5-meter "pie" cannot be fully responsible for the quality of roads.

A high-quality roadbed can be up to one and a half meters thick. Bitumen is used only when creating the upper 10 cm.

What could be the reason? It is difficult to answer this question. What to do? To use new, more advanced materials on motorways with heavy and very heavy loads, as well as new design methods that take into account both the climatic characteristics of particular territories for construction of the highway and the degree of its loading. Including for the upper layer of the roadbed. As for modern materials, long ago TAIF-NK also successfully mastered production of polymer-bitumen binders.

 

Polymer Bitumen Binder is ideal for Russia, and demanded abroad

— Roads are constantly under loads: natural, mechanical, vertical, horizontal. Customary oxidized bitumen, it should be admitted, does not have high elastic properties. That is, after the load is reset, it does not return to its original shape and dimensions. But the use of polymer-bitumen materials or polymers as a component of bitumen, allows you to enhance, among other things, its elasticity. In other words, elastic deformation takes place. This makes it possible to improve the damping abilities of both bitumen and the asphalt concrete coating produced using bitumen, which improves the quality and durability of the asphalt concrete coating itself. In addition to it, polymers in bitumen make it possible to improve its resistance to aging when exposed to temperatures, ultraviolet and other climatic factors. And in general, polymers in the polymer bitumen binder (PBB) increase the durability of both bitumen and asphalt concrete coating as a whole, — Marat Idrisov is sure.

The PBB production facility is located next to the intermediate bulk containers of the main production facility.

PBB production facility was put into operation at the Crude Oil Processing Plant of TAIF-NK JSC back in 2015. The PBB production site is located next to the intermediate bulk containers of the main bitumen production facility. And this is easily explained: the innovative material is based on one and the same oxidized bitumen.

— But a few more components is added there, in addition to bitumen: the polymer is styrene-butadiene rubbers, as well as vacuum gas oil of own production, which serves as a plasticizer.

One of the first batches of a new polymer-bitumen binder was used on the experimental section of the Naberezhnye Chelny — Zainsk — Almetyevsk road in the Tukayevsky district of the Republic of Tatarstan, near the Begishevo airport. It was in August of 2016.

—A part of the section was experimental - made from polymer-bitumen binder PBB 60 according to GOST 52056-2003 manufactured by TAIF-NK. And it turns out that there has been no wheel track for 6 years," the Deputy Head, Petrochemicals and Oil Refining, TAIF JSC shared the results of observations.

Why is the wheel track formed? Why are roads cracking? This is because these transitions between "plus" and "minus" in our climate destroy roads. Well, bitumen can heat up under the sun and flow. But these additives, rubbers, give bitumen the properties of rubber, so to say. It becomes elastic. Like a ball. I pressed it, it crumpled, and then it resiled. For this, we built a small unit in 2015, installed it into our system, launched it, and received the product," explained Vladimir Lahomov.

In addition to classical bitumen, PBB contains about 5% of styrene-butadiene rubbers.

— The Austrian-German technology of obtaining polymer bitumen by means of a colloid mill has been introduced. This is already a new generation of bitumen, where up to 4-5% of special polymers are included in the formulation of bitumen itself. Such bitumen has petroleum residues in reaction with a polymer that is produced at Nizhnekamskneftekhim. When we started this work, we considered options with components from such well-known companies as Kraton, LG Chem, then switched to use of polymers produced by SIBUR - Voronezhsintezkauchuk, and the results were not worse than imported ones, and later, when Nizhnekamskneftekhim mastered this production, we receive all raw components for production of both the customary bitumen and PBB  from one Nizhnekamsk site," Alexey Hramov added.

 

Alexey Hramov: “Various options of polymers were considered for PBB, but after NKNK launched its own production, all the feedstock used is of Nizhnekamsk production”.

The colloidal mill, temperature, pressure, special component and as a result we obtain a completely new product with unique properties and characteristics.

— Yes, it is more expensive than customary bitumen, but we cannot say that it is critical. But this is bitumen, which is not affected by mechanical loads and temperatures. This is an ideal option for our climatic conditions. And today, PBB is mainly purchased by southern countries. We ship it for export. Uruguay. Bolivia. It showed very good results there. The only thing is that there are no PBB grades abroad. There is PG — an international designation. Our PBB has passed certification, — shared the director of the Crude Oil Processing Plant.

However, gradually the understanding of the advantages of the new binder is growing. As well as the demand for new grades.

Margarita Urmanova: “A new grade of PBB has recently been developed”.

— At the moment, the main grade is PBB 60. This is our main grade of the polymer-bitumen binder. And we have recently developed another grade. We have prepared, observed, analyzed. I can say that there are improved qualities of polymer—bitumen binder, and thanks to it, the quality and durability of the road pavement improves. There are additional requirements specified for the bitumen durability —brittleness and melting points, the ability to withstand loads, elasticity, etc., — says Margarita Urmanova.

— PG- PBB is highly demanded on the market today. We communicate regularly with consumers — our road builders. And, as far as we know, the standards are changing towards PG particularly. That is, it is such a challenge to the time. And we meet this demand by being ready to offer this product to the market," Askar Sulteev emphasizes.

Askar Sulteev: “We meet the market requirements and offer new products”.

In order to ship PBB to foreign consumers, as well as to Russian buyers from remote regions, in 2016-2017, units of polymer-bitumen binder packing in big bags and boxes weighing 1 and 2 tons were built next to the main loading rack for this type of product. After cooling, the "cubes" with the help of a forklift, like figures in "tetris", are loaded into wagons and delivered to the customer. Moreover, this can be done all year round, simply by accumulating the necessary volumes of products in the season.

In order to ship for export and to distant regions, the packaging of PBB in big-bag bags and boxes has been mastered.

— And even there we didn't stop, and currently our process engineers, the TAIF-NK team are actively working out production of bitumen in compliance with new standards — the so-called Superpave standards. The peculiarity of this standard, of the bitumen produced according to this GOST, is that the climatic area in which this bitumen or PBB is planned to be used is evaluated, and options are selected directly depending on this. But the most important thing is that this method focuses not on the properties of bitumen immediately after preparing, but on how it shows stability of these very properties after aging. These are the GOST standards, the measurement methods, the indicators of bitumen and PBB that have not been used in Russia before. And our process engineers have learned to produce even such a product. It must be said that we have a certain competitive advantage in production of bitumen: in the formulation a unique product is used, which is obtained by VR hydrocracking. Since we are the only operators of such unit on the territory of the Russian Federation, and in the world only we have such a component. We can obtain a product corresponding to certain PG grades both from classical feedstock — that is, from the fuel oil vacuum residues, and with the use of the VR hydrocracking residue. This is a new word in the process of bitumen and PBB production. Nowadays we can produce from five to six grades of such a product. At the moment, the consumer market for this product is being investigated. The classic consumers of such a product, as I see it, are major road builders of either republican or federal importance," Alexey Hramov said.

The high quality of PBB manufactured by TAIF-NK has received a well-deserved appraisal at the republican and federal levels. Various grades of polymer-bitumen binder have repeatedly become winners of competitions in Tatarstan and Russia.

Profit is important, but it is not the main thing

During the conversation with the experts of TAIF-NK JSC and the parent company of the Group - TAIF JSC, one couldn’t help but ask one question: "After commissioning of the HRCC, the main feedstock for which are the same VR and vacuum gas oil that go to bitumen, but at the same time high-margin, high-quality light oil products are obtained as a result – wouldn’t it turn out that bitumen production which is related to dark oil products will be suspended? As it turned out, no.

Bitumen production is not the most profitable business, but it is just what Tatarstan and Russia need for construction of roads.

— I would say as follows: a lot depends on the quality of roads, road pavement, road network. Including the economics of production. On high-quality roads, delivery and dispatch of goods, general logistics are carried out at a lower cost. It turns out that not only the republic in general benefits from the quality of the materials used in construction of roads, but also the industrial enterprises using these roads. TAIF-NK is an active user of highways. We are interested in high-quality roads. Accordingly, we benefit from quality thereof. Therefore, construction of high-quality roads from high-quality materials, in compliance with all formulations and requirements, in my opinion, is very important. We should not think that bitumen for us is a kind of social product. It is also a necessity for us," Marat Idrisov expressed his confidence

— Of course, processing of VR and vacuum gas oil into light petroleum products is more marginal. When such unique complexes as HRCC appear in the process scheme, and it is possible to process VR into diesel fuel, naphtha and kerosene fractions, then the price of bitumen becomes a little different. In this case, processing of fuel oil competes with the prices not for commercial bitumen, but for diesel fuel. But since we are the only modern industrial plant on the territory of Tatarstan that produces a wide range of bitumen, we cannot disclaim responsibility to the republic, to its residents. Any investment related to roads has a far-reaching effect: the economy as a whole is developing. And even without roads, notionally, the consumer simply will not reach our fuel," Alexey Hramov also supported this opinion

Vladimir Lahomov: “Nobody canceled the need in bitumen. Road builders need it”.

— Why do we continue to produce bitumen? The answer is very simple: HRCC does not make bitumen. And on the market bitumen is in demand. Roads have to be made of something. Therefore, no matter how good a plant is built, and the need for bitumen has not been canceled. Road builders need it. Especially with such a volume of road construction as we have in Tatarstan. Just take the M-7 and M-12 highways," Vladimir Lahomov also spoke briefly but capaciously.

Still more, still better, still more diverse in the grades range: such tasks are set today by the bitumen and PBB production facility of the TAIF-NK Crude Oil Processing Plant. More bitumen means more good roads and logistics arteries for the region with an actively developing economy.




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