Quarried natural resources
Quarried natural resources comprise a great number of mineral deposits, in particular gravel and sands, broken natural stone, natural stone, lime, marl and dolomite stones, gypsum and anhydrite stones, as well as coarse ceramic clays and loams. Quarried natural resources are bulk raw materials; due to geological conditions, they are site-bound and not distributed evenly across the country.
Quarrying has been handed down since the beginning of human history. According to scientific findings, the oldest known “stones from human hands” originate from the 9th to the 8th millennium B.C., taken from ground fortifications in the Middle East. The extraction of quarried natural resources also has a very long tradition in Germany. In the past, these natural resources were mainly extracted by hand, but companies today use modern technology. Geophysics, GPS, intelligent machine and plant control and largely automated processes control the extraction of these natural resources.
Every year, the building materials and quarrying industry extracts roughly 560 million tonnes of primary raw materials (excluding quartz sand and gravel, kaolin and fine ceramic clay; these materials are covered in the section on vii industrial minerals) or uses these materials in production. In 2020, gravel and sands with 262 million tonnes and broken natural stone with 223 million tonnes represented the largest share of natural resources in terms of quantity in the German extractive industry. The total value of quarried natural resources was around €4.9 billion in 2020. Thus in 2020 around 46% of the total value of natural resources mined in Germany was attributed to quarried natural resources.
Germany meets its own requirements for quarried natural resources largely from reserves within the country.
Quarried products are generally mined on a regional basis and are transported over short distances to the consumers. The reason for this is that the transport costs are relatively high compared to the value of the material. Accordingly, foreign trade plays mainly a role in areas adjacent to the border. The main customers are the countries which are Germany’s direct neighbours, e. g. the Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium. In 2020, imports in terms of volume were approx. 17.2 million tonnes (value: €1,01 billion). Exports in terms of volume were 26.3 million tonnes (value: €0.7 billion).
In 2020, the quarried natural resources sector (incl. Other mining) employed 38,237 (9) people in Germany who are subject to social insurance contributions.
Quarried natural resources are mined decentrally and, with just a few exceptions, are extracted in open-cast operations. In 2020, the industry operated around 2,700 extraction sites in Germany (10). When extracting sand and gravel, a distinction is made between dry and wet extraction, depending on the groundwater situation, and these two scenarios require different production techniques. Nearly all quarried natural resources require processing and refinement before they are sent on for their intended use. As non-renewable natural resources, they are also site-bound because of their volumes.
Around 80% of the quarried materials are supplied directly to the building industry (e. g. civil engineering to build roadbases and wearing courses, track ballast) or are initially processed by the building products sector into basic and building materials (e. g. cement, concrete, quick lime, mortar, insulation materials, tiles, bricks) and then supplied to the construction industry. The remaining approx. 20% are used in the chemical, steel or glass industries. In addition to the quarried quantities of primary earth and stone, approx. 100 million tonnes of secondary raw materials (mineral construction waste and by-products from industrial processes) are used in the building industry every year.
These result from e.g. the demolition of buildings, the production of pig iron (blast furnace slag) or from electricity generation in conventional power stations (FGD gypsum, fly ash). The use of secondary raw materials contributes to the substitution of primary natural sources. The substitution rate is around 15%.
Industrial minerals are mineral rocks that can be immediately used in industry due to their special chemical and physical properties, i. e. without any substance conversion. In addition to the salts already mentioned in section v., this group includes kaolin (also called porcelain clay), quartz sand (clay), special clay (fine ceramic clay), quartzite, feldspar, sticky sand, bentonite, silicas, fluorite and barite.
Apart from salts, the two most important industrial minerals in Germany in terms of volume are quartz sand/gravel and fine ceramic clay with production volumes of around 9.8 million tonnes and about 2.3 million tonnes respectively in 2020. In 2020, the total value of these two industrial minerals extracted in Germany was around €258 million.
The extraction of industrial minerals in Germany is extremely regional in structure, due to natural conditions. While, for example, kaolin is produced in Bavaria and Saxony and silica in Bavaria, the extraction of special clay is mainly concentrated in Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse.
Apart from salts, industrial minerals in Germany are mainly mined above ground by small and medium-sized enterprises. In contrast, fluorite and barite are also mined underground. In Germany, industrial minerals are extracted at around 200 extraction sites, although this number varies slightly each year.
Due to their chemical and physical properties, industrial minerals are mainly used in the paper, chemical, glass, ceramic, refractory, foundry and steel industries. However, the pharmaceutical industry, environmental management (exhaust gas purification, wastewater treatment plants, solar panel and wind turbine plants) and the automotive industry also use industrial minerals.
In Germany, iron ore is mined in North Rhine-Westphalia and Saxony-Anhalt. The iron ore extracted here is not smelted into iron, however; it is used mostly in the form of crushed stone, chippings and brittle sands as a coloured and iron-rich aggregate for the concrete or cement industry. Germany’s requirement for iron ore to produce pig iron is covered entirely through imports. In 2020, around 39 million tonnes of iron ore were needed, 5.4% less than in the previous year. The ore came primarily from Brazil, followed by Canada, the Republic of South Africa, Sweden and Russia.
(9) [BfA 2020], for a detailed source reference, see final note i.
(10) Bundesverband Mineralische Rohstoffe e.V. (2021): Management Report 2020/2021. URL: https://www.bv-miro.org/service/geschaeftsberichte/ [Accessed on 14 November 2022).