Elena Kudryashova on Russia’s advancement to the Arctic

Invest Foresight interviewed Dr. Elena Kudryashova, rector of Russia’s Northern (Arctic) Federal University (NArFU) on the prospects of Russia’s expansion to the Arctic Regions and the University’s involvement in the process.

– Professor Kudryashova, one of the frontmost matters of everyone’s concern is mineral resources extraction at the Arctic shelf. Those projects are somewhat stalled at the moment. What is worrying, Russia seems to have established its presence in the Arctic areas since long, but has nevertheless failed to develop technologies capable to ensure a cost efficient extraction of oil on the Arctic shelf, for example. That makes Russia dependent on its foreign partners. Has Russia got a chance to catch up and eliminate the technology gap? Has NArFU been involved with the process?

– Norway is known to have gained a unique experience of operating at the shelf in high latitudes. It has Statoil, a national company, and a number of national universities which train specialist for that company. NArFU has been cooperating with those universities and with Norway’s Statoil for over 25 years. Most of professors from NArFU and Norwegian universities have visited each other to exchange experience. We maintain student exchanges as well. In fact, Norwegian technologies are not totally new to us since NArFU students have been trained to use them for quarter a century. More so, despite the anti-Russian sanctions which have had an impact on equipment procurements and technologies transfer, for instance, our scientific and educational cooperation goes on.

On the other hand, Severodvinsk-based Sevmash Joint Stock Company, the largest ship-building complex in Russia, accumulated an unparalleled experience of constructing an offshore ice-resistant fixed Prirazlomnaya platform which now extracts oil on Russia’s Arctic shelf at Nenets Autonomous Area. NArFU students and graduates took an active part in constructing the platform. At some point, Norwegian technologies were employed there, but while construction was advancing, a great deal of Russian know-how was also added. Our specialists are now fully capable to build such platforms.

NArFU is actively involved with operation of such an important sector of the national economy as hydrocarbons extraction. In NArFU’s Higher School of Power Engineering, Oil and Gas one can get various tpes of education, such as baccalaureate in oil and gas engineering specializing in operation and servicing of oil and gas complex of the Arctic shelf. Master’s degree programs include development of oil and gas fields on the Arctic shelf and development of the Arctic oil and gas fields using modern methods of metrological and information support. Besides, NArFU offers to the Russian oil companies operating on the Arctic shelf a broad range of research projects such as core material examination, analysis of base oils compatibility in dual oil stratum operation, offshore and onshore oil spill modeling and remedies thereof, etc.

– Hydrocarbon resources extraction is a deferred project. What practical steps are being taken to expand Russia’s presence in the Arctic, what will be happening in the near future? In your view, what will be the starting point for the Russian advancement to the Arctic region?

– I believe a very promising project, due to climatic change, is exploitation of the Northern Sea Route. The Northern Sea Route is evidently the shortest route from the European part of Russia to the Far East, and from Europe to Asia. It is safer and hence more feasible. The number of vessels travelling this route is growing on a yearly basis. According to the Federal Agency for Sea and Inland Water Transport, in 2017 the volume of shipments along the Northern Sea Route increased by 42%, from 7.5 до 10.7 million tons. The Federal Agency for Sea and Inland Water Transport expects that 44 million tons will be shipped there by 2020 and 70 million tons by 2030.

One more matter which is not broadly discussed yet, is the adequate fresh water availability. Arctic ice is a good resource of quality potable water.

– Does that mean ice will soon be excavated as well?

– I find it quite possible. Technologies of that sort are already being developed. According to various estimates, fresh water makes up merely 3% of the global water volumes, whereas some 85% to 90% of fresh water exist as ice.

– Another problem for the Arctic North is power supply. Quite evidently, a lot of energy is required in a cold climate, therefore energy should be preserved and procured. Is your institution dealing with the subject?

– True, power supply and energy intensity are major problems for the Far North, since due to severe climatic conditions heat and electricity consumption in the Arctic areas are high. Energy supply to various settlements and enterprises in the Arctic regions of Russia is a research priority for NArFU’s Higher School of Power Engineering, Oil and Gas. It aims to use alternative energy sources and introduce hybrid systems, smart electricity systems, and cut soot particles emission by fossil-fuel power plants.

NArFU, for instance, takes part in a large-scale project, Assessment of Complex Energy Solutions for Power Supply to Solovetsky Settlement. One of the project’s tasks is developing optimized patterns for power supply to Solovetsky Archipelago which is a unique site included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

It should also be noted that in the Extreme North where power sources of energy for isolated power grids are power plants using imported diesel oil, the issues of consumers’ energy efficiency are of a paramount importance for gradually reducing dependence on Northern Supply Haul. They must therefore be viewed as the main scenario in prognosticating a long range energy balance. NArFU is actively dealing with the problems of improving energy efficiency and resource saving by performing scientific research and implementing the most advanced power efficient technologies.

In the Arctic region, hybrid systems should be developed and employed, in NArFU’s view, combining wind turbines, solar batteries, fuel pellets, and maybe lithium batteries. A hybrid system should be a complex agglomeration which can be easily assembled in any conditions and incorporated into an information system to swiftly respond to temperature fluctuations or technical breakdowns.

– Will such a system come to existence?

I am certain it will. Several research teams are exploring the idea in cooperation with Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Moscow Engineering Physics Institute, other researchers from Fairbanks, Alaska, and countries of Northern Europe. It is a most pressing problem.

What are the strongest points of NArFU in terms of education, tailor-made specialists training, scientific research? What are its main advantages?

– I would say, there is some uniqueness in every respect. One of the evident advantages is the fact that since the very beginning it was clear that the Arctic Region can not be explored and developed on one’s own. So NArFU has been building capabilities and infrastructure for employing network research teams, with both Russian and foreign partners. To serve the interests of Russia in the Arctic areas, NArFU has set Arktika Shared Use of Equipment Center with its state-of-art equipment, Arctic Space Monitoring Center, the only in Russia Arctic Biomonitoring Laboratory, Neurophysiology Shared Use of Equipment Center and other research units. One of the stronger points is, NArFU has become a cooperation hub which brings together most diverse people. That includes the well known beyond Russia Arctic Floating University which is a joint project by NArFU, Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring, and Russian Geographical Society. This is an innovative educational project allowing young researchers of the Arctic gain knowledge and skills in real life circumstances of the northern seas. Since 2012 and until now, nine sea expeditions have been arranged in which about 500 students (including foreign students), postgraduates and researchers have taken part.

The expeditions have explored the environment, and historical and cultural heritage of Novaya Zemlya, Frantz Josef Land, and Spitzbergen archipelagos. Some hydrochemical, hydrographic, botanic and geographic research has been performed along some of the Northern Sea Route, to as far as Dikson port. The results obtained will allow improve forecasting the state of ice floes by the Northern Sea Route. Research findings have been described in 255 scientific publications, including those in top journals of Scopus and Web of Science data bases.

Arctic Floating University project has been highly valued by a range of Russian and foreign politicians and scientists. In 2013 the project was awarded Mikhail Lomonosov regional prize (youth science), while in 2014, Russian Geographical Society prize. At the moment, preparing the Arctic Floating University’s tenth expedition scheduled to take place in July 2018, is underway.

Northern (Arctic) Federal University has become an accredited national and international platform for discussing the Arctic areas development issues. It annually arranges dozens of regional, national, and international events on the Arctic matters, all sorts of fora, conferences, congresses, round tables, etc. In March 2017 NArFU was the grounds for the 4th International Arctic Forum, Arctic: Territory of Dialogue. The forum gathered over 2,400 participants from 31 countries. It was attended by scholars and experts, representatives of businesses and governments, including president of Russia Vladimir Putin, president of Finland Sauli Väinämö Niinistö, and president of Iceland Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson.

– Have you got graduates you are really proud of, those who have been successful on a national scale?

– Managers of the largest and most advanced pulp and paper enterprises of Archangelsk Region are NArFU graduates. Arkhangelsk Pulp and Paper Mill is headed by Dmitry Zylev, Sawmill 25 by Dmitry Krylov. The Institute of Shipbuilding and Arctic Marine Engineering (NArFU branch in Severodvinsk) graduates are among top managers of the United Shipbuilding Corporation, and defense industry committee. Nikolai Malakov, deputy culture minister, is a NArFU graduate. NArFU Graduates Association has been established and is efficiently interacting with all university graduates, including those of the antecedent universities. The most successful graduates support university projects, often visit it and meet with students and faculty.

– How could you explain the slogan of creating the first Russian digital university?

– Such global challenges as society’s digital transformation, shaping a digital economy, increased demand for digital literacy, an accelerated rate of emergence and implementation of new technologies, growing information flows – set new tasks for the university to address. One is to meet the present-day requirements to the digital economy actors. In November 2017 NArFU Academic Council approved the university digitalization concept which describes the present state of the modern technologies development, rates of their implementation in various sectors of the national economy, and manifests the need to have the university involved in the digital transformation processes as an inherent participant of the government digital economy building policies. The university has set fundamental principles and mechanisms of the digitalization program development and a phased plan of the university digitalization implementation. At the moment, NArFU is drafting its digitalization program. The future is undoubtedly digital.

By Konstantin Frumkin

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