Interesting facts about salts

Interesting facts about salts
Salt has been actively extracted by humans for over 5,000 years.
Interesting facts about salts
The importance of the historical extraction of salt for many towns is often reflected in their names (e.g. Bad Reichenhall, Halle, Bad Salzdetfurth).
Interesting facts about salts
If saline sources were discovered in a town, the epithet “Bad” (spa) was added to the town’s name. This ushered in the birth of today’s spas.
Interesting facts about salts
In the mid-19th century, Justus von Liebig discovered the importance of potassium as an essential plant nutrient.
Interesting facts about salts
After 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.
Interesting facts about salts
As early as in the high-medieval period, the brine pipeline relocated from the Reichenhall mine to Traunstein was one of the first pipelines for natural resources in the world.
Interesting facts about salts
The Werra potash mine is the largest active underground mining area in Germany.
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In addition to the mineral natural resources described in the following section (vii. Other natural resources), salts are industrial minerals. Industrial minerals are mineral resources that can be immediately used in industry due to their special chemical and physical properties, i.e. without any substance conversion. A distinction is made between rock salt, potash salts and magnesium salts.
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 layers. Bavarian and Austrian Alps salt is of a similar age and has been extracted for thousands of years. The commissioning of the world’s first potash factory in Staßfurt in 1862 marked the beginning of what is now a 150-year tradition of German potash mining.
The extraction of salt by solubilisation, i.e. by making it soluble using water injected via boreholes, or by mining in salt mines, has a long history. People were digging for salt in the Berchtesgaden area as early as the 12th century. In the 16th century a salt mine was built there which is still in operation today.

Economic importance

In 2021, the amount produced in Germany was approximately 16.7 million tonnes of rock salt (including industrial brine) and some 6.4 million tonnes of potash and potash salt products. This is roughly equivalent to a value of €2.5 billion and it accounts for a 0.6% share of GDP. Salts accounted for around 19% of the total value of natural resources mined in Germany in 2021. This means that salts ranked 2nd among all natural resources mined in Germany in terms of economic importance. Domestic production covered 100% of German requirements for salts (2021). With a total production of approx. 5%, Germany was the fourth largest producer of salt in the world in 2021, after China, the USA and India, and also the fifth largest potash producer with around 5% of the world’s total production. In 2021 and 2022, a total of 7,825 and 8,198 persons were directly employed in potash mining in Germany and a further 2,366 and 2,386 were employed in salt mining.1


Extraction takes place in Germany in five potash mines (in Hesse, and Thuringia), seven salt mines (in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia), six salt works (in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia, and Saxony-Anhalt) and ten solubilisation facilities (in North Rhine-Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia), including one operation for the extraction of potash salts (Thuringia).2
Salt and potash mining is carried out in the mines by means of drilling, blasting or cutting techniques or by brining out underground deposits (solubilisation). 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 or specialized facilities, where it eventually becomes salt, potash salt and other products.


Rock salt and evaporated salt is used for commercial and industrial purposes as well as for food and de-icing. 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.
Potash crude salts are largely mined but, to a lesser extent, they are also extracted using other methods. The salts are mainly used in agriculture as fertilisers. However, they are also used as industrial salts in electrolysis and other industrial processes – and there is a demand for these salts in highly-purified form for the food and feed industries and for pharmaceutical purposes.

1 For a detailed source reference, see final note i.

2 Current information on mines and salt works in Germany for potash and salt extraction can be found at: (Accessed on 19 July 2023).


In Federal States in which legislation does not include an excavation law and the State-level Nature Conservation Law does not apply to the extraction of non-energetic, ground-based natural resources in the context of dry excavations, this type of natural resource extraction falls within the scope of the relevant state building regulations.

Legal limitations also exist: State building regulations apply to the excavation of solid rock (limestone, basalt, etc.), for example, in quarries with an area of up to 10 hectares (ha) in which no blasting is carried out. In the event that this area is exceeded, or if water bodies are formed after completion of the extraction operations, the German Federal Immission Control Act (BImSchG) and/or Water Resources Act (WHG) are applicable.
In Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia, the above-ground excavation of non-energetic, ground-based natural resources in the context of dry excavations is determined at state level by the existing excavation laws (AbgrG). For the excavation of solid rock (limestone, basalt, etc.) in quarries where blasting does not occur, the AbgrG applies to sites with an area of up to 10 ha. In the event that this area is exceeded, or if water bodies are formed after completion of the extraction operations, the German Federal Immission Control Act (BImSchG) and/or Water Resources Act (WHG) are applicable. In the other Federal States, this type of natural resources extraction is regulated by the respective state building regulations or by the state-level nature conservation laws.

In general, the AbgrG applies to those raw materials the excavation of which is not directly subject to mining law or the mining authorities. These raw materials include (in particular) gravel, sand, clay, loam, limestone, dolomite and other rocks, bog mud and clays. However, the jurisdiction between AbgrG and mining law can vary from case to case in the case of certain raw materials, such as quartz gravels. The requested authority must always verify its own jurisdiction in each case. The AbgrG also encompasses surface area usage and the subsequent rehabilitation of the area.
The German Federal Immission Control Act (BImSchG) is the most important and practice-relevant law in the field of environmental law. It constitutes the basis for the approval of industrial and commercial installations. In the natural resources extraction industry, quarrying companies must have approval to extract stones and earth. Every quarrying area of 10 hectares or more must undergo a full approval procedure, including public participation and UVP (environmental impact assessment). A more simplified approval procedure is used for quarrying areas of less than 10 hectares.

The sphere of responsibility for the legal immission control approval procedure is fully specified in the Immission Control Acts of the Federal States. The Federal States are tasked with the administrative enforcement of the approval procedure. Each individual state’s Environment Ministry – the highest local immission protection authority – usually bears the responsibility for this procedure. Subordinate authorities include regional councils, district authorities and lower-level administrative authorities. Administrative jurisdiction generally lies with the lower-level administrative authorities.
The GDP measures the value of goods and services produced domestically (creation of value) within a given period (quarter, year). The Federal Office of Statistics calculates the GDP as follows: production value minus intermediate consumption = the gross value added; plus taxes on products and minus subsidies = GDP
The gross value added is calculated by deducting intermediate consumption from the production values, so it only includes the value added created during the production process. The gross value added is valued at manufacturing prices, i.e. without the taxes due (product taxes), but including the product subsidies received.

During the transition from gross value added (at manufacturing prices) to GDP, the net taxes (product taxes less product subsidies) are added globally to arrive at an assessment of the GDP at market prices’. Source: Destatis
The planning approval procedure under mining law is used for the approval procedure of a general operating plan for projects which require an environmental impact assessment (§§ 52(2a), in conjunction with 57 a of the BBergG).
There are different definitions and methodological approaches at the international as well as at the national level as to what subsidies are and how they are calculated. According to the definition of the German government’s subsidy report, this report considers federal subsidies for private companies and economic sectors (ie grants as cash payments and tax breaks as special tax exemptions) which are relevant to the budget. Subsidies at the federal level can be viewed via the subsidy reports of the federal states (see Appendix 5 of the German government subsidy report).
In compliance with § 68(1), Water Resources Act (WHG), the excavation of landowners’ natural resources such as gravel, sand, marl, clay, loam, peat and stone in wet extraction operations requires a planning approval procedure. The reason for this is that groundwater is exposed in wet extraction, resulting in above-ground water. The planning approval procedure is implemented by lower-level water authorities.

The procedural steps of the planning approval procedure are governed by the general provisions of §§ 72 to 78 of the Administrative Procedures Act (VerwVfG). Within the meaning of § 68(3), nos. 1 and 2 of the WHG, the plan may only be established or approved if an impairment of the common good is not to be expected and other requirements of the WHG as well as other public-law provisions are fulfilled.