Coal dust clearly became 2017’s antihero in Russia. On several occasions, the topic of ports covered with a thin black veil during transhipment operations, while residents in surrounding areas are forced to see what they breathe, were discussed. The situation was even mentioned during the annual Direct Line call with the Russian president.
Residents of Nakhodka and other ports of the Russian Far East then rightly resented that some large companies are neglecting environmental regulations and ignoring complaints. Residents were particularly struck by the fact that both globally and in our country, effective dust suppression techniques at port terminals have long been tried and tested. "What prevents you from systematically using this everywhere?” residents demanded.
The issue of coal dust could not go unnoticed at this year’s international ECOTECH forum, which was held in Moscow. The main goal of ECOTECH is to search for innovative environmental solutions and introduce affordable technologies promoting lower levels of industrial emissions, reduce waste generation and protect the environment from negligent business practices. Representatives of environmental protection services and large port businesses, executives, environmental experts, activists and public figures, as well as foreign experts came together for the roundtable discussion on Environmental Issues of Port Operations. The discussion was moderated by Vasily Bogoslovsky, the director of the International Ecological Foundation Clean Seas.
The meeting served to continue a dialogue begun a long time ago and carried out by professionals. The latest methods of coal transhipment, which almost completely suppress coal dust, were discussed. Brian Taylor, Global Product Manager – Field Services at SGS Environmental (South Africa), detailed global best practices in air monitoring around ports, where dust is carried. It was revealed that in some cases, Russian regulations on permitted concentration of harmful substances in the air are at times more stringent than in the USA. Mikhail Ovodkov, Departmental Head at Rosprirodnadzor, confirmed that in the coming months, Russian ports will be subject to strict verifications. For instance, he mentioned that certain locations in the Far East had been neglected, making it no longer possible to ignore.
Sergey Semenov, Corporate Development Director at Morstroytechnology, detailed the advantages and disadvantages of various methods to manage coal particles in ports – via humidification, stacking, the application of coating additives, the erection of ridged walls and protective screens, vegetation bands, etc. According to Semenov, all these initiatives should be bundled together and adapted to local specifications. He referred to Murmansk Commercial Seaport to illustrate his point.
Alexander Masko, CEO of SUEK’s Murmansk Commercial Seaport, went on to explain that more than 15 million tonnes of coal, crushed stone, manganese ore and other bulk cargo, in addition to containers, equipment, and other goods transit through this port every year. At first, a port appeared on the Kola Bay, and later, around it, Murmansk was built - explaining why residential areas surround the terminals. Accordingly, the environment has been a growing priority, with investments increasing more than 20 times in recent years. These investments are providing returns. According to the Institute of Atmosphere, the concentration of coal particles in the atmosphere around the port fell by 49%. While the maximum permissible concentration is 0.5 mg/m3, the Murmansk Commercial Seaport had 0.2 mg/m3 in 2014, and the indicator was already down to 0.04 mg/m3 in 2016.
There are eight stationary dust suppression systems spread out across the port. In the summer, a water mist suppresses dust, while snow cannons operate in winter. Additives are also used to cover the coal stacks with a thin film of ethylene glycol.
Coal accounts for almost 95% of Murmansk Commercial Seaport cargo. Particular attention is paid to dust – first, as cargo is loaded. At the Murmansk Commercial Seaport, a crane can only release cargo within half a meter of the coal stack. While this increases the operating time, it also drastically reduces dusting. "Most ports do not follow this as it is both difficult and inconvenient," explained Masko. "But we diligently follow this norm". With their above average size, the cranes are also distinct. The Murmansk Commercial Seaport acquired five 100-tonne Vityaz cranes, each equipped with a 20m3 grab, also working with 10 cubic metres. This reduced the amount of dust by about a quarter.
Specially built high walls line the coal stacks to protect against dust. These are between 4 and 6 metres, instead of the previous 2.5 metres. Any dust on the ground, on roads or the site, is removed by powerful industrial vacuums. Although the idea of modern wind shields was borrowed from China, port specialists studied some 16 ports in various countries, all leaders in the stevedoring services market, before choosing the optimal solutions for our northern climate and constant winds.
In addition to technology, diplomacy and managerial skills also came into play as cargo owners had to cut port inventory levels in half – to a maximum of 250 tonnes at any given time. Perhaps logistical planning between rail and ship became more challenging as a result – “but a rule is a rule," added the general director.
Within the framework of ECOTECH, the Murmansk Commercial Seaport and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology of the Russian Federation signed a cooperation agreement envisaging that the port will spend over three billion roubles on environmental protection measures over the next three years. Speaking at the forum, Denis Ilatovsky, SUEK Director of Logistics and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Murmansk Commercial Seaport, noted that such cooperation has now become one of the most effective tools within environmental management systems. He estimated that such consistent work will reduce the amount of emissions from coal transhipment from 44 tonnes per year today to just one and a half tonnes by 2021 – a very encouraging figure when considering that the Murmansk Commercial Seaport has an annual cargo turnover of 250,000 tonnes.