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German Commodities Sector /

Salts

Salts

Interesting facts about salts

Salt has been actively extracted by humans for over 5,000 years.

The importance of salt for many cities is often reflected in their names. 

If saline sources were discovered in a town, the syllable ‘Bad’ (spa) was added to the town’s name – this ushered in the birth of today’s spas.

In the mid-19th century, Justus von Liebig discovered the importance of potassium as an essential plant nutrient.

When miners coincidentally discovered the world’s first known potash deposit while searching for rock salt near Staßfurt in 1856, the first potash mines and works were subsequently established in Germany around 1860.

In the high-medieval period, the brine pipeline from the Reichenhall mine to Traunstein was one of the first pipelines for natural resources in the world.

The Werra potash mine is the largest underground mining area in Germany.

History

Germany has large salt deposits, which are mainly concentrated in northern Germany. Over millions of years, deposits of salts resulted in several 100 m thick salt layers. Bavarian and Austrian Alps salt is of a similar age and has been extracted for thousands of years.

The commissioning of the first potash plant in the world in Staßfurt in 1861 founded the almost 150-year tradition of German potash mining. Salt extraction from saline springs and through the mining of salt deposits has a long history. People were digging for salt in the Berchtesgaden area as early as the 12th century and an active salt mine that was established in the 16th century still exists there.

Economic importance

In 2014, the amount produced in Germany was approximately 12.7 million tons of rock salt (including industrial brine) and some 36.6 million tons of crude potassium salt with a material content of K2O from 3.8 million tons. With a total production of 5.3%, Germany was the fifth largest producer of salt in the world after China, the USA, India and Canada in 2014 – and the fifth largest potash producer with around 9% of the world’s total production. In the same year, roughly 8,200 people were employed in potash mining and 2,500 in salt mining in Germany.

Extraction

Extraction takes place in Germany in six potash mines (in Hesse, Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia), seven salt mines (in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia) and seven salt works (in Baden- Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Mecklenburg-Western-Pomerania, Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia). Salt mining is carried out in the mines by means of drilling, blasting or cutting techniques or by bringing out underground deposits. Brining out is done by introducing freshwater or half-brine into the salt deposits through borehole probes, after which the salts dissolve. The brine is then pumped through a probe and processed above ground in salt works, where it eventually becomes salt (and other by-products).

Uses

Rock salt and evaporated salt is used as commercial and industrial salt – we also use it on our food and for de-icing purposes. Salt is an indispensable natural resource for the chemical industry, e.g. in the production of soda, chlorine and caustic soda. Glass, plastic and aluminium could not be produced without salt.

It is used as regenerating salt in water softening plants, in the feed industry, in road services, for snow clearing and in the food industry. Sodium chloride meets particularly high purity requirements as an active pharmaceutical ingredient.