What’s Good for Ecology? An Interview with the Dean of SUSU INSM’s Faculty of Chemistry, Vyacheslav Avdin

The Day of Ecologist is celebrated in Russia in the beginning of June. The professional holiday of volunteers and specialists in the sphere of nature protection has existed for 10 years already. It was established by the Decree of the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, dated July 21 of 2007, upon an initiative of the State Duma Committee for Ecology, on the World Environment Day. Dean of the Institute of Natural Sciences and Mathematics’ Faculty of Chemistry, Director of Nanotechnology Research and Education Center, Vyacheslav Avdin, told us about topical issues and methods of water and air purification.

— How would you assess current ecological situation?

— Ecological situation in the world is far from perfect. This is connected with the latest rapid development of such industry areas as synthesis of new chemical products, manufacture of new products in the sphere of radio electronics and mechanical engineering, etc. But modern methods for environment protection are not yet ready to protect from these exposures. From the other hand, work is being done in this direction, and the world is trying to switch to ‘eco-friendly’ technology. I think that the situation will be stabilized in several years, and people will cause less damage to the environment; this process has already started.

— What causes more damage to the environment: factories or automobiles?

— Both, actually. Factories are located downwind. Wind direction in Chelyabinsk is mainly north-western, and factories are positioned in the East, so that pollutants would be blown aside. Automobiles, in turn, are distributed all around the city. Expert evaluations for each city are different, but anyway, the correlation is close to 50/50. It is necessary to monitor both factories and cars. It is for a reason that authorities of many countries, Russia included, are trying to pay attention to development of electromobiles, although from the position of economics, it is quite expensive so far. But this is good for the environment, because methods of energy generation for electromobiles are not connected with fuel consumption: it requires hydro power stations, atomic power stations, etc.

— What may cause pollution of the environment by enterprises? Discharge of sewage water, for example?

— Discharge of sewage water is not a new problem. I think, it has existed from the moment of existence of first industrial enterprise. Enterprises should carry out certain activities for air and water purification, otherwise they don’t have the right to start working. If you visit any factory, you will see that all purification installations are present; moreover, they are in operating condition. But there happen emergency situations, when something malfunctions. Also, sometimes enterprises carry out discharge of pollutants into water and emission into the air without necessary treatment due to “economy” reasons. Such negligence and emergencies cause unfavorable impact on the environment.

— What new technology for environment protection is being developed?

— The existing methods are based on the fact that pollutants get absorbed by sorbents and concentrated by membranes, i.e. pollutants get extracted from one medium and get transferred in a concentrated form into another medium. But pollutants should be somehow recycled and discharged. And modern technology offers another approach to environment purification. The main trend is not extraction and concentration of polluting substances but their destruction. There are various methods of destruction: biochemical, catalytical, when harmful substances get destructed into carbon dioxide and water, and many others.

— What kind of specialists in the sphere of environment protection are being trained at SUSU?

— In 1988, when SUSU was Chelyabinsk Polytechnic Institute, it started to perform training of ecologists simultaneously with the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia. No other university in the USSR performed training of ecologists. From that time, several thousands of specialists graduated SUSU. At first, training implemented in the sphere of engineering protection of the environment; activities for prevention of environmental damage were being developed. From the beginning of the 2000s, the university started training of highly-skilled specialists in the area of fundamental ecology.

— What areas of the sphere of environment protection are SUSU specialists working in?

— As I said, in the sphere of environment protection work is being done on methods of reagent-free purification of resistant-to-oxidation pollutions, mainly organic ones, using the methods of biologic indication, and traditional-for-our-university assessment of effectiveness of activities for environment protection.

— What enterprises does the SUSU Institute of Natural Sciences and Mathematics cooperate?

— The university should operate in a way that our inventions were in-demand. They are enterprises of various profile, including the objectives that they set. Key enterprises are: Magnitogorsk Iron & Steel Works (MMK), ChTPZ, Mechel, and Chelyabinsk Zinc Plant. Every year, there are about 10-12 research and development works connected with environmental problems, that the university carries out in cooperation with industrial enterprises.

— At what enterprises do future ecologists undertake internships?

— We have agreements on cooperation with all leading enterprises, including Konar, Mechel, ChTPZ, Magnezit plant, and FosAgro Company. Sometimes students undertake onsite internships, going to enterprises located not only in the Chelyabinsk region, but in other regions as well.

Azaliya Sharafutdinova: Oleg Igoshin
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