4 Jun '12
Oleg Kouzbit, Online News Managing Editor
In a most innovative retirement for the Cold War era arsenal a Russo-Belarusian JV undertakes to rework the warheads of old air bombs, mortar shells, projectiles and missiles into nanodiamonds, a material in strong demand across hi-tech sectors from high-strength cutting tool-making to electronics and optics. A future facility, to be launched outside the Russian city of Smolensk, is projected to churn out up to five tons of valuable nanodiamonds a year—an amount that the entire global market consumed in 2011. Medieval alchemists would wish they’d lived to see the realization of their dream: with contemporary science the old and worthless will be turned into the new and precious.
The JV has been set up by two Russian partners, Moscow’s Fugas Petrovsky Scientific Center and Forpost Baltiki Plus, a company from the westernmost Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, and Minsk-based Sinta, a Belarusian firm. The three have been in ammo recycling business for years.
The future reprocessing site will be launched on a military training ground outside Smolensk, a Russian city not far away from the Belarusian border, and is expected to recycle old war scrap from both countries.
In the Russo-Belarusian know-how, nanodiamonds will be produced from spent TNT (trotyl) and RDX (hexogen) in what the project developers call an armored chamber with a capacity of app. 3,531 cubic feet. The chamber is reportedly projected to generate up to five tons of super-hard nanodiamond powder a year.
Sinta CEO Alexander Korzhenevsky told the Russian media that the Smolensk regional site is now being test-run and will start operating at full throttle this coming summer already.
The partners in the project are all private businesses. Fugas Petrovsky Scientific Center is a joint-stock company set up in 2005 and engaged in R&D in a broad range of natural and technical sciences.
Forpost Baltiki Plus took over in 1998 as an independent company from a government-run ammunition recycling center based in Kaliningrad. In addition to what its predecessor did the firm also specializes in scouring areas from explosive objects and substances.
Set up in 1992 in Minsk, Belarus, Sinta has developed and now owns industrial know-how for producing super-dispersed diamonds by detonation synthesis for a variety of sectors.
Entering a burgeoning market
The effort is being built around an idea of taking advantage of peculiar properties of ordinary graphite. When exposed to extremely high pressure the substance takes the structure of a diamond crystal. In the technique, using detonation in closed space results in diamond and corundum powder.
The method is not entirely new to the world; some countries are said to utilize it—but only at small production sites. So far, super-hard crystal makers have not been able to install enough production capacity to meet the growing demand. As a result, it is still a relatively expensive material.
The new project is coming to supply a fast-growing international market. Between 2006 and 2011 global nanodiamond consumption reportedly grew a hefty 25 times to five tons a year—the Smolensk project’s estimated annual output.
Applications are wide; nanodiamonds are in demand from high-strength cutting tools makers, manufacturers of aircraft and automobiles, electronics companies, producers of optical and laser systems, as well as biopharmas making chemical substances and drugs.
Lowering the death toll and shaking up the markets
The business partners from the two neighboring countries are launching their endeavor in a time of what observers describe as “near catastrophe” as regards the recycling of old bombs, projectiles and missiles inherited from the Soviet past.
Appalling accidents that take lives are a recurrent plague at ordnance yards and ammo depots. According to Rossiiskaya Gazeta, the Russian government’s official mouthpiece, two huge ordnance yards blew up last year when a blast was attempted to destroy old stockpiles. Earlier this year, too, there were tragedies with human casualties.
The international team hopes building mobile ammunition recycling centers and nanodiamond production complexes instead of blasting the hazardous ‘inheritance’ will not only reduce risks substantially but will also reshape the CIS and global nanodiamond markets. With the projected capacity of the Smolensk site alone the partners expect to at least double global supply, leading to a considerable drop in prices and the subsequent broadening of nanodiamond applications.