LDaily talked to Anton Shandra, general director of Technobasalt-Invest, LLC about the activities of the company that manufactures basalt reinforcement products, about the idea of producing such products. We discussed whether there is such a demand at the domestic market and whether it is difficult to reach the global scale with the above-mentioned products.
LDaily: We often hear about composite materials. What is it and what their features are?
A. Shandra: Composite materials are closer to us than it seems at a first glance: they are literally around us! For example, concrete or drywall are classic composite materials to which we have long been accustomed. There is a principle: each material has its strengths and weaknesses, and if you combine them correctly, you will get a composite material that will have only the strong properties of its components and its characteristics will better meet our needs. Therefore, products made of composite materials based on carbon, glass, and basalt fibers are becoming extremely common: they are used to making yachts and ships, drones and airplanes, car bodies, and in general almost for anything, that we use in life. The fact is that composite materials have better balance of strength, weight, and cost compared to traditional materials such as metal or plastic. The development of composite fiber production is a significant “technological revolution” for world industry and the economy, not less than the development of, for example, 3D printing. Only composites based on synthetic fibers are already deeply embedded in global production; it’s not even tomorrow, it’s today.
LDaily: You are the head of a Ukrainian innovative enterprise engaged in composite technologies. What exactly you make.
A. Shandra: Our company “Technobasalt-Invest” is one of the three world leaders in the production of basalt fibers. These fibers are strong and resistant to chemically aggressive environments. The production process is quite complex: we melt specially selected basalt stones at temperatures of above 1500 0C, extracting from this melt ultra-thin basalt strands 16-18 microns thick (four times thinner than human hair). Basalt stone is a mineral of volcanic origin, which has many useful properties, including strength and stability at relatively low weight. We change it to a continuous fiber, which is used in the manufacturing process of composite materials or in construction. This technology itself originated during the space race, and for a long period of time has been a part of the military industry. We picked up this technology and developed it. Currently, the company operates 50 to 50 — for the domestic market and for export. The main area of product application is construction, where basalt fiber and basalt composite reinforcement replace traditional metal reinforcement. This replacement gives a fundamentally higher quality to concrete reinforcement, ease of work and durability of the object — and all this has a significant economic effect! All we have to do is overcome the excessive conservatism of the market — and we do it in the language of testing and development of new, modern state regulations.
LDaily: So your main “competitor” in construction is metal. Against the background of more than 100% growth in metal prices, do you have your forecasts for this market?
A. Shandra: Metal will be with us for a long time, and reinforced concrete, of course, remains the main design solution in construction. However, the price of metal is growing and will continue to grow, in addition, it is heavy, which complicates logistics and installation work; and what is most important, this material corrodes. Metal in concrete is not as reliable solution as everyone used to think. We receive clear signals from abroad: the world starts understanding this. In the United States, NACE (National Association of Corrosion Engineers) estimates that the global economy loses about $2.5 trillion due to metal corrosion each year, and that figure is only growing; in Europe, a carbon footprint tax is gradually being introduced on metal structures, as well as other restrictions designed to bring construction in line with the accepted concept of sustainable development, which provides for durability and environmental friendliness. Of course, metal has ceased to be an unalterable choice for many industries — from the construction industry to heavy industry — and this transformation in the world economy is irreversible, it will only deepen.
LDaily: Is it difficult for innovative production to survive in Ukraine?
A. Shandra: Every national economy has its pros and cons. I cannot say that it is impossible to create innovative production in Ukraine. Do we feel effective support from the state? No, the country does not have a clear industrial strategy, it lacks vision. Bank loans are too expensive, and investors feel it would be better not to come to a place where the judicial and law enforcement systems work quite unpredictably. At the same time, there are no insurmountable obstacles or critical shortages of technological infrastructure. Step by step, however, we are developing a national cluster of innovative production. There are difficulties — but where you do not have it? It is safe to say that Ukraine has enough interesting and advanced projects — from IT to industry. Ukrainian entrepreneurs and technicians clearly contribute to the global innovation fund. You need to be prepared for systematic work and healthy risk — as always in business.