Acid time bomb: why citric acid is no longer made in Russia

Published by
Peter Kavinsky

This additive is used in the production of a large number of products.

A picture: Shutterstock

MADE IN CHINA, WE WRITE IN THE MOSCOW REGION

News from the category “boss, everything is gone!” In our country, they do not produce a strategically important product – there is no single enterprise for the production of citric acid. Yes, yes, the same acid that many housewives use to rid kettles of lime. But this component is indispensable in the production of confectionery, pastries, canned food, various sauces, mayonnaise, cosmetics, medicines, household chemicals… But now 98% of citric acid in Russia comes from China.

– China has been the main supplier of citric acid to the world market for many years, – said Vitaly Mankevich, president of the Russian-Asian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. – Exports of Chinese citric acid account for more than 60% of world trade in citric acid, including to Russia.

But here’s the paradox. There was a bag of citric acid in my kitchen cupboard. The Russian manufacturer is on it, and the address near Moscow is indicated. Does that mean we also have our own businesses? I called the delivery department where they explained the situation clearly to me and asked not to refer me to them.

Until 2010, citric acid was produced successfully and in good volumes in Belgorod at the Citrobel plant. It was founded in 1960. The company covered 35% of the needs of the Russian market. But after that the situation changed drastically, the Chinese came to the country with their products, the price of which was much lower than in Belgorod. As a result, Citrobel ends 2017 with a loss of 2 million rubles, and 2018 – 24 million. But it’s not just about China’s citric acid expansion. At the same time, the factory faced environmental problems.

Residents of Belgorod began to complain about an unpleasant smell from the territory of the plant. It is strange that the existence of the company has not complained for several decades, but has broken through in recent years. But let it be a coincidence. The investigation revealed that production waste – citrogips – was taken to a collection container, which was part of the plant’s technical areas. And it turned out that this plaster causes irreparable harm to the environment. Then there was another investigation, when the courts … In general, production stopped and there was no more citric acid in Russia.

– So why not write on the packaging that citric acid is from China? I asked in that same delivery department.

– For what? – they answered me. – We purchase raw materials and package them in our company. That is why we state our address.

ACID PLANS

The head of RAUIE Vitaly Mankevich explained that the complexity of production according to new environmental standards lies in the fact that a lot of liquid industrial waste is difficult to process, not all factories have such capabilities.

– And China has them completely, – added Mankiewicz. – In addition, taking into account China’s desire for environmental standards for world production, their export products pass customs control without any problems and are licensed for sale in Russia. The outlook for the Chinese citric acid market largely depends on the policies of importing countries. The Russian side is open to this kind of cooperation, logistics chains work uninterrupted, so there is no shortage of citric acid.

The Chinese are great, of course, but why not launch your own production on the wave of domestic import substitution? There are such projects. That’s just from an idea to a real launch will take years.

For example, the company Organic Acids is going to build a factory near Tula for the production of citric and lactic acid. All technologies and equipment will come from China, and domestic raw materials will be used – corn, sulfuric and hydrochloric acid, soda, activated carbon (see “Did you know ..”). The first production will appear in 2024. The production of citric acid will also start in the Kuban. But the work is still in the design phase.

NUMBERS ONLY

From January to May 2022, 44.5 thousand tons of citric acid were imported to Russia from China. That is 82% more than in the same period of 2021 (24.4 thousand tons). The opening of the borders after the pandemic had an effect.

The volume of imports of citric acid into the Russian Federation during five months of 2022 (according to the Federal Customs Service of the Russian Federation, analysis by NEO Center JSC):

January – 6.8 thousand tons

February – 9.9 thousand tons

March – 9.5 thousand tons

April – 5.8 thousand tons

May – 12.5 thousand tons

DO YOU KNOW THAT…

Citric acid, contrary to the name, is not made from lemons. Its creator is considered to be the Swedish pharmacist Karl Scheele, who in the late 18th century removed the acid from the juice of unripe lemons with calcium. And 100 years later, scientists invented a method of producing citric acid using fungi. Today, industries use industrial strains of the fungus fungus of the genus Aspergillus and sugar obtained from corn, sweet potato, etc. Even crystalline sucrose and molasses (beet molasses) are used. The acid itself is produced by biosynthesis.

Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at cablefreetv.org

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