Russia's mining giant Nornickel starts sulphur dioxide capture in most polluted city

A view through a bus window shows Nadezhda Metallurgical Plant of Nornickel company in Russia. Photo: Reuters/Tatyana Makeyeva/File

Moscow: Russian mining giant Nornickel launched a multi-billion dollar project on Wednesday aimed at reducing sulphur dioxide emissions by 45% in Norilsk, Russia's most polluted city, through a complex capture programme.

Nornickel, the world's largest palladium producer and a major producer of high-grade nickel, has changed the timing, cost and configuration of the programme several times. Before Russia sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022, the company had estimated costs at $4.1-$4.3 billion.

That price tag may change as Nornickel, though not directly targeted with Western sanctions, was forced to find new solutions for the final stage of the project's development as foreign suppliers pulled out over Moscow's actions in Ukraine.

"Challenges arose when certain international vendors declined to provide vital equipment to Russia," Nornickel said in a statement. After pivoting to new manufacturers and suppliers, over 90% of equipment now originates from Russia or allied countries, it said.

The project entails converting sulphur dioxide into sulphuric acid, which is then neutralised with limestone to generate gypsum waste. Nornickel said smelters in the Arctic city of Norilsk release roughly 1.8 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide emissions annually. Nornickel cut emissions in Norilsk by 30-35% in 2016 when it shut down its oldest nickel plant. In 2020-21, it shut down facilities on the Kola Peninsula, eliminating its emissions on the border area with Norway.

Nornickel said production had begun on Wednesday at the Nadezhda Smelter, 16 kilometres (9.94 miles) from Norilsk. It plans to invest a total of 180 billion roubles ($1.93 billion) in that part of the project that should cut sulphur dioxide emissions there by 45% by 2025 from 2015 levels. A similar programme for its Copper Plant was curtailed when contractors were sanctioned. Nornickel found alternative suppliers for the Nadezhda plant, the company said.

Company Chief Executive Vladimir Potanin has said Nornickel is looking for solutions at the Copper Plant and plans to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions there tenfold by 2027.
The project's implementation should improve the environment in the Arctic region, where a fuel spill in May 2020 ultimately cost Nornickel $2 billion in environmental damage. "This is a project of national scale, reverberating throughout the Arctic," Potanin said in a statement.

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