President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Sergeyev, this year you will hold leadership elections, for President of the Academy. It is a good opportunity to talk about the Academy’s performance, the projects it is working on, the outlook and what else the state should do to support our science, in particular, academic researchers.
President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander Sergeyev: Thank you for this introduction. First of all, I would like to say a few words about the main achievements of Russian scientists, primarily within the framework of fundamental research projects. Next, I would like to say what we would like the state to do to further enhance the efficiency of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
I have prepared a booklet, and I would like to begin with the most important achievements of Russian scientists.
It is very important that in 2021 we launched the first Arktika satellite. In all, four such satellites are scheduled to be put into orbit under a federal space programme. But right now we only have enough funds for two of them. The second satellite is to be launched in 2023. The thing is that this satellite will be launched into an absolutely unique orbit, a so-called highly elliptical orbit. With four such satellites, we will be able to continuously monitor the Arctic, with good spatial and temporal resolution, acquiring images of the same area every 15 minutes. We will be able to acquire approximately 2 million images a year. This is very important.
No other country has such satellites. Europe, the United States and Japan are planning to launch such a satellite no sooner than in 2028. It is a much-anticipated satellite, because to date we are mostly using information provided by foreign satellites. But now we have our own satellite of this type. We are already receiving the first images, which you can see here. It is a joint project of Roshydromet [Russia’s national weather service], Roscosmos, and the Russian Academy of Sciences is, of course, actively involved as well.
Vladimir Putin: Are you referring to the cloud chart?
Alexander Sergeyev: Yes, the cloud and ice charts. Mr President, it is extremely important to install radio-frequency imaging equipment on our satellites, and the sooner the better. The trouble is that optics cannot see the underlying surface through a cloud layer. What we need is radio-frequency imaging equipment, centimetre- and millimetre-wave radars. We are working on this now, but the satellites do not have such equipment yet. We are working with Roscosmos and other organisations to create such equipment as soon as possible, so that we can conduct observations in any weather. This is very important.
The next result of our R&D efforts is Tsiklodron, a newly designed unmanned aerial vehicle. It mimics the propulsion principle from old-time paddle steamers. With the latest automation solutions and by continuously monitoring the position of its blades and their angles, we can programme this four-rotor mechanism to perform any movements, including a vertical take-off, landing on a sloping surface, approaching a building, etc. This is the first time something of this nature has been developed. Of course, the famous Russian engineer Sverchkov suggested using this kind of propulsion mechanism more than a century ago, but this concept never materialised until now. So far, this device weighs about 60 kg and can carry only 10 kg. This is a demonstration unit. We made it at our facilities in Siberia. In fact, the Institute of Thermophysics of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences designed this drone, with support from the Russian Foundation for Advanced Research Projects. We believe that they formed quite an effective alliance.
Here you can see wind-channel tests at the Chaplygin Siberian Scientific Research Institute of Aviation, and to the right the drone is actually flying.
Vladimir Putin: It says here that the maiden flight is scheduled for 2023.
Alexander Sergeyev: That refers to a six-passenger aircraft, while this demonstration unit took to the air last year. It stayed in the air for quite a while, for 10 minutes. This is how long it lasts on a battery charge. However, with a hybrid power unit it can fly for an hour. It currently uses propulsors that are one and a half metres in diameter. Efforts are underway to make a manned aircraft with a take-off weight of 2,000 kilograms. It is expected to be ready to fly in 2023.
Vladimir Putin: What are the applications for it?
Alexander Sergeyev: The Emergencies Ministry and the fire-fighters are interested in acquiring these aircraft. Unlike other quadcopters and helicopters, it can approach a vertical wall so that rescue workers can get out. We were surprised by the fact that it is much quieter than quadcopters, which enhances its appeal as an eco-friendly air mobility solution.
Its enhanced manoeuvrability is very important. Having the computer steer all four rotors enables it to move along any trajectory at quite a good speed.
The third result we achieved is a bit technical but very exciting nonetheless. We are familiar with the tar issue: fuel production creates a lot of heavy residue, with entire landfills filled with it. However, there are methods for using various catalyst agents in order to recycle tar and reuse it for making fuel. It is in this field that a very interesting idea surfaced.
If we place tar, which is high in carbon and relatively low in hydrogen, into a reactor with, say, polyethylene or polypropylene waste, which are on the contrary rich in hydrogen, it produces amazing results, if we use the right catalyst agents. This way we can recycle up to 92 percent of this waste, while producing quality fuel.
This offers an environmentally sustainable solution for both kinds of waste.
Tatneft is about to launch a tar factory in Nizhnekamsk, and the next stage will be to set up a production facility for both tar and polypropylene. The Institute of Petrochemical Synthesis developed this solution.
Vladimir Putin: There is a huge market for polypropylene.
Alexander Sergeyev: Indeed.
The next result is quite modern because, on the one hand, it concerns climate trends, the warming, while, on the other, the Russian Arctic. And this is also about fishing and the productivity of Russia’s northern seas.
Last year, we had an expedition on board a research ship, the Academik Keldysh. The Kara Sea ice cover disappeared earlier than usual, and the scientists actually went there in the second half of June. They saw much greater efficiency of photosynthesis on the sea surface, because the sun is high at that time. It’s the polar day, and therefore solar radiation goes on practically all day. A great number of photons penetrate under water and set off photosynthesis. As we know, the process of photosynthesis is accompanied by carbon sequestration. It became clear that the seas in which ice melts away in late June or early July, specifically the Kara Sea, are two or three times as efficient at carbon sequestration. Meanwhile, carbon sequestration is the start of food chains that go further to ecosystems. This means that more fish can proliferate. Last year, crabbing actually started in the Kara Sea. Therefore, this is a very interesting trend, where seas are free from ice for longer periods and can capture and store carbon more actively, which means that more carbon is sequestered in food chains that raise the productivity of seas.
Vladimir Putin: The ecosystem as a whole is likely to change there, and so there will be less sequestering.
Alexander Sergeyev: You know, this is a very interesting question. I mean, where all of this eventually goes. After all, we must sequester carbon from the gaseous to solid state. It has emerged (you said so in one of your speeches, and we are glad because we have been saying this for a long time) that the sea surface sequesters no less carbon than, say, the vegetation on firm ground.
Vladimir Putin: This is why we are suggesting that this factor should be taken into consideration, too.
Alexander Sergeyev: This must be taken into consideration without fail. But it is still an open question where carbon eventually ends up in its solid state. This kind of research is in progress in the Far Eastern seas. Molluscs accumulate carbon in their shell, and this food chain leads to the situation where molluscs are grown and their protein is used for food, while their shells are what catches the carbon. Today, some countries are creating farms that grow molluscs with massive shells. This is one of the proposals as to how to enter climate projects via the sea.
Mr President, I must tell you about the latest in the coronavirus research. Obviously, in 2020, scientists were focused on developing vaccines. In 2021, we achieved certain noteworthy results concerning the development of new medication platforms. I am talking specifically about platforms. Maybe drugs for which clinical trials have not yet been completed, but these are platforms. Why? Who knows what kind of virus we will get next time? We need to be ready to fight more than just a specific virus that we may know little about. We need a universal platform and we have developed one. It is unique.
I want to briefly report on two more achievements, in the humanitarian field. A very interesting, I believe, result was achieved in Ulan-Ude. We have a collection of ancient oriental manuscripts in Ulan-Ude, at the Institute of Mongolian, Buddhist and Tibetan Studies. This foundation boasts 100,000 volumes. It is the world’s largest depository of Tibetan manuscripts. They have not been deciphered. Our colleagues working with them say it takes decades for a professional to decipher one volume. They used 500 deciphered texts to teach a machine that uses AI and deep learning. Thanks to this machine learning technology, the machine learned to decipher with 94 percent accuracy.
Now we are going to streamline this process by digitising the originals for machine-aided deciphering.
Vladimir Putin: This will be a unique pool for world culture.
Alexander Sergeyev: Yes. At the same institute, at the Centre of Oriental Manuscripts, we have around 7,000 ancient Mongolian manuscripts. If we polish this technology on these languages, we can use it to translate books in any ancient language. My colleagues say that now there is a chance to decipher these 100,000 manuscripts within one generation.
Vladimir Putin: This could be absolutely remarkable.
Alexander Sergeyev: Finally, the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences created a publicly available map of Russian archaeological sites, accessible on the institute’s website. Anybody, including tourists and students, can see on the map what archaeological finds are located in Russia and where.
Vladimir Putin: So they can learn more about our tangible and non-tangible cultural legacy.
Alexander Sergeyev: Yes. It can serve as a foundation for studying tangible and non-tangible cultural legacy.
Vladimir Putin: Excellent. Sounds interesting.