Deiti logo
German Commodities Sector /


Hard coal

Interesting facts about hard coal

The subsidized coal mining industry in Germany will end by December 31, 2018, with the closure of the last remaining mines in Bottrop and Ibbenbüren.

The termination will be carried out in a socially acceptable manner and on a legal basis.

With approx. 6 million tons extracted in 2015, German hard coal covers around 10% of the German requirements.

Around 90% of the hard coal is imported, mainly from Russia, Colombia, the USA and Australia.

In an international comparison, German hard coal mining is characterised by difficult geological conditions (extreme mining depths, thin seams, overburden pressure) and an extensive, subterranean infrastructure.


The hard coal industry in Germany gained in economic importance during the industrial revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries. Production increased steadily, reaching an annual peak of more than 200 million t at the beginning of the Second World War. After WW2, German hard coal was used in the electricity, steel and heat supply industries. In the mid-1950s, 600,000 employees in 170 mines extracted 150 million tons of hard coal every year. In the late 1950s, however, this situation changed – German hard coal could no longer compete efficiently in the world market since its extraction is carried out exclusively through underground mining. Even today it still needs subsidies from public authorities. Imported coal and – above all – cheaper crude oil replaced the German hard coal.

The current situation in which the German hard coal mining industry finds itself is the result of a continuous adaptation process, one which started with the founding of the Ruhrkohle AG (RAG) – a merger of 51 Ruhr area mines – in 1969.


On February 7, 2007, the German Federal Government, the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Saarland, the RAG AG and the Mining, Chemical and Energy Industrial Union (IG BCE) agreed to end the subsidised production of hard coal in Germany at the end of 2018 in a socially-acceptable manner. The phase-out process is governed by the ‘socially acceptable phasing-out of subsidised hard coal mining in Germany’ framework agreement of August 14, 2007 and by the German Hard Coal Financing Act, which came into force in December 2007. Read more subsidies and tax aids here .

Economic importance

In 2015, hard coal accounted for 12.7% of primary energy consumption in Germany and contributed 18.1% to German electricity production. In the same year, power stations accounted for 78% of the total consumption of hard coal, the steel industry and other producing industries accounted for 20% and the domestic heating sector and small consumers accounted for some 2%. 6.2 million tons of German hard coal were extracted in 2015. This is equivalent to a value of some €557 million. 8,500 hard coal industry personnel are currently employed in Germany’s only two remaining hard coal mines, one in Bottrop and the other in Ibbenbüren. In view of this development, imports today cover around 90% of the demand for hard coal and hard coal products (57.5 million tons in 2015).


Interesting facts about Lignite

With production at around 178 million tons in 2015, lignite accounts for almost 12% of primary energy production in Germany.

Lignite accounts for around 24% of gross electricity generation.

Lignite is currently mined in 10 active open-cast mining sites on 3 lignite coalfields. The Rhineland is the largest brown coal region in Europe and Germany is the world’s largest producer of lignite.

Germany covers 100% of its lignite requirements from its domestic reserves.

Recultivation and compensation for land required for mining are important issues for the German lignite mining industry.


As early as the 17th century in Germany, lignite was being produced as a replacement fuel for wood, which was becoming increasingly scarce. With increasing industrialisation and the development of new deposits, the 19th century saw an increase in lignite production from 170,000 tons in 1840 to 40 million tons in 1900. This trend continued unabated in the 20th century until production reached an all-time peak in 1985 with 433 million tons produced that year. Much of this increase in overall German lignite production was attributable to the East German lignite coalfields. After the East/West German reunification, lignite production in East German lignite coalfields declined by 67% between 1989 and 1994, caused mainly by a change in the fuel mix. Total German production fell from 410 million tons to 207 million tons during this period.


Lignite is mainly extracted in three areas – the Rhenish, Lausitz and Central German regions, where mining is only carried out in opencast mines close to the surface. Annual production in 2015 amounted to approximately 178.1 million tons and has largely remained constant in recent years. The value of the brown coal lignite subsidised in Germany in 2015 amounted to €2.4 billion. This means that brown coal is the most important natural resource in Germany, in terms of the value of production. With the decline in lignite production in the wake of German reunification, the number of persons directly employed in lignite mining fell from 130,000 in 1990 to 15,600 in 2015.


Around 90% of the lignite Germany produces is used to generate electricity and district heating. The economic advantages in using lignite result from the combination of the opencast mine and power plant being near the location of the lignite deposits. Around 10% of the lignite produced is refined into solid or pulverised fuels for commercial use and private households (e.g. brown coal briquettes, pulverised lignite, fluidised bed lignite and lignite coke). In 2015, lignite accounted for 11.8% of the primary energy consumption and contributed to 23.8% of electricity generation. The domestic production of lignite covers the country’s annual consumption.