Norbert Steiner: Germany needs secure, long-term supplies of raw materials

An economy which is intended to function over the long term depends on raw materials. Economic success and prosperity are based to a large extent on the use of raw materials. Problems with the availability of raw materials can result in serious after-effects on industrial added value and hence on employment, growth and investment in Germany.

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Secure supplies of and free access to raw materials are crucial for competitiveness in Germany. At the same time, it is easy to overlook the fact that this does not concern just the mining of deposits in Asia, South America or Africa; Germany it­­self has its own raw materials to offer. But in order to obtain these resources, assistance from society and the state are essential.
In the current debate on the supply of raw materials to the German economy, metal-based raw materials – which have to be imported to a large extent – and energy feedstock are both in the public eye. By contrast, attention has scarcely been paid to the necessity of access to local sources of raw ma­­te­­rials, yet Ger­many’s raw ma­­te­rials in­­dus­­try is one of the main­­stays of its economy.

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German industry de­­pends on suitable and fair basic conditions for se­­cure access to raw materials. This ap­­plies both to obtaining raw materials from abroad and to the use of locally-sourced raw materials. The real net output ratio is enormous, especially in the German potash and salt industry. The salt obtained from salt mines in Germany is used for a wide range of essential products for private, commercial and industrial uses. The range of uses of these products, which are also integral parts of our lives, is extraordinarily broad: potash and mag­­nesium fertilizers, which are essential for healthy plant growth, help to significantly increase agricultural crop yields in order to feed a heavily growing world population.
Whether it’s salt for one’s egg at breakfast, use as a highly pure preservative, medical infusion solutions, industrial and commercial salts used among other things to soften water and to manufacture plastics, aluminium and glass or road salt for use on roads in winter, the products of Germany’s potash and salt industry are much sought-after worldwide.

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Apart from rock salt and potassium salts, Germany is also one of the world’s major producers of other raw materials such as lignite and chain clay (used to make clay and porcelain products). Germany is even able to supply all its requirements for sand, gravel, clay, chalk and gypsum. Every year, some 1.2 billion tonnes of raw materials are processed in Germany. Locally produced raw materials make Germany independent of imports while others are key export products, and all create jobs. With 200,000 employees in over 6.000 companies earning total sales of some 43 billion euros, Germany’s raw materials industry makes an important contribution to Germany’s national economy. A total of up to six million people are employed in the entire raw materials added value chain right up to the finished product.

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The high level of awareness of energy and major industrial raw materials of which Germany has only insufficient reserves, is appropriate and important. But we need the knowledge that Germany can think itself lucky to have raw materials that make it independent and which are in demand abroad. The local raw materials market should receive the corresponding political and social attention and support.

steinerThe author (born 1954) studied law at the University of Heidelberg. He is chair­­man of K+S Aktiengesellschaft and a member of the Raw Materials Committee of the Federation of German Industries (BDI).