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Money from the air

How xenon and krypton are extracted from "dirty" oxygen on Russian equipment in China

At the Jinan Iron and Steel Works (China), a rare gas separation plant of the PJSC "Cryogenmash" operates, allowing from the "dirty" oxygen remaining after the production of technical gases, to obtain rare types of gases that are in high demand on the market. EastRussia looked at how a waste product turns into gas, the cubic meter of which costs thousands of dollars.

Money from the air
Photo: Alla Galanova
In 2011, the Russian enterprise Cryogenmash supplied a krypton-xenon concentrate separation unit (URRG) to a metallurgical plant in Jinan, capable of processing up to 200 cubic meters of oxygen mixture remaining from the production of industrial gases per hour. At the entrance to the URRG, the raw material contains 0,269% of xenon and krypton, explains Vyacheslav Kuznetsov, head of the Cryogenmash representative office in China. In the installation "dirty oxygen, which was actually a waste product, is separated by the method of low-temperature rectification." Initially, the radioactive substance radon and hydrocarbons are removed from the mixture formed in the safety stream of large cryogenic air separation plants. Then the mixture is returned to the unit again, where the resulting krypton-xenon concentrate in the form of a liquid enters the unit for separation. Subsequently, pure gases are evolved through low-temperature rectification.

EastRussia HelpPJSC "Cryogenmash" is a member of the group of companies "United Machine-Building Plants" and is the largest producer of equipment for air separation and processing of associated gas, natural gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the country. The equipment "Cryogenmash" produces about 70% of annual production of technical gases in Russia. The company supplies cryogenic air separation plants in Egypt (Egypt), Bulgaria, North Korea, Hungary, India, Iran, Nigeria, Poland, Romania, Turkey, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and other countries. One of the key markets for "Cryogenmash" is Chinese.

The Jinan plant produces 960 liters of xenon and 10 liters of krypton per day. The cost of the rare gases produced is high, says the general director of Cryogenmash Sergey Khrustalev: xenon can cost up to $ 800 per cubic meter, and oxygen - only $ 8000-100 per thousand cubic meters. The global xenon and krypton market is estimated at $ 150 million, with a small number of professional players.

Krypton is used in the manufacture of ultra-high-power lasers, and a mixture of krypton and fluorine is used as an oxidizer for rocket fuel and in combat lasers. Xenon is widely used as a gas for incandescent lamps, gas discharge light sources and car headlights. Radioactive isotopes of xenon are used as radiation sources in radiography, to detect leaks in vacuum apparatus, and for xenon anesthesia of patients. Xenon is also used for the production of lasers, in spacecraft engines. At the moment, there are no more than 20 installations in the world for obtaining these pure gases. And due to the rapid development of new technologies in the global industrial space, the demand for high technologies and for cleaner noble gases is growing rapidly. The development of electronic technologies involves the use of products such as isotopes of helium, neon, xenon, krypton. Therefore, in the future, the market for consumption of xenon and krypton will only grow.

In China, the produced gases are sold mainly on the domestic market - the national defense industry is increasingly demanding them. About 10% is exported. In 2012, the second URRG produced by Cryogenmash was put into operation at the plant in Handan. The degree of purification is so high that the purity of the rare gases obtained has exceeded the most stringent requirements of Chinese standards. The production of krypton and xenon allows businesses to offset costs from the metallurgical crisis. According to Li Zonghui, Deputy Director of the Gas Plant of the Jinan Metallurgical Combine, no spare parts have been required from Cryogenmash PJSC since the delivery date: the units delivered in 2011 worked without any emergency stops and unforeseen situations.

Also, the company demonstrated that in metallurgical production not only "dirty oxygen" can be used for good. During the excursion, journalists were shown a pond on the territory of the plant where the fish is grown. "Heat from industrial needs enters the pond and heats the water.In winter it is cold, it helps to maintain the temperature.It is constantly circulating the water, it is cleaning, oxygenation .10 years ago, it began to breed fish in the territory, it comes to feed the plant's employees and sale, "- said Vyacheslav Kuznetsov.
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