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Since 1850, the South Harz region has become the main production centre for the German gypsum industry. The main reasons for this are the large deposits of gypsum in the region, its central location, the good transport set up and the high quality of the products. The most important gypsum factory, set up in the South Harz region since 1860, was Friedrich Euling Vereinigte Gipswerke Ellrich am Harz GmbH which was founded in 1868. This is where the roots of REMONDIS’ company Südharzer Gipswerke are to be found, a company with over 150 years of history. Both the works council and the workforce have called on politicians to support them in their drive to protect this traditional industry and, as a result, their jobs. Bodo Ramelow, parliamentary party leader of the ‘Die Linke’ party in the Thüringen state parliament, visited the site this autumn to find out more about the importance of gypsum for the region and for the country as a whole.
At the beginning of the 90s, over 60 million euros were invested in the Ellrich business creating a state-of-the-art gypsum and anhydrite processing plant. In 2004, the plants in Dorste, Ellrich, Neckarzimmern and Sulzheim then merged to form the company, Südharzer Gipswerk GmbH (SHG). Following the transfer of the business to REMONDIS at the beginning of 2009, SHG continued to sell its products under its own brand names. In February 2013, all of REMONDIS’ gypsum activities were then grouped together in a newly founded company to unite the experience of Südharzer Gipswerk GmbH (SHG) and the know-how of the RADDIBIN brand. Run under the name CASEA, the new firm has five company-owned and two associated business locations. The 200 employees market up to one million tonnes of gypsum products a year.
”Both FGD gypsum and natural gypsum will continue to be key raw materials. Natural gypsum will become increasingly more important as Germany switches from fossil fuels to renewables.“
Dr Alfred Schiffer, Managing Director of CASEA GmbH
The company continues to have its head office in Ellrich. The Ellrich plant, with its more than 60 employees and apprentices, has access to raw materials of extremely high quality. These quarried materials are around 260 million years old, with the beds of anhydrite reaching a thickness of up to 100 metres and the beds of gypsum 25 metres. These are removed from various sections of the quarry to enable the company to provide different grades of material. The Ellrich plant has strong ties to the South Harz region and has contracts with various local production and service companies creating jobs for those living in the area. The raw materials are also transported from the quarries to the processing facilities by local transport businesses.
The separate calcination and mixing lines at the processing facility allow the company to offer a wide range of gypsum and anhydrite products. These are incredibly versatile substances and are used in every household as well as in many other areas of application. Plaster of Paris, wall plasters and flowing screeds are the products primarily made for the building trade. Besides using standard procedures to produce hemihydrates, the facility is also equipped with state-of-the-art technology to enable it to use liquid calcination processes. The resulting alpha plaster has low porosity and a low water requirement. As it is exceptionally strong, it is primarily used for industrial applications. Both naturally sourced gypsum and FGD gypsum are used here.
Gypsum is a naturally occurring product formed by the evaporation of sea water millions of years ago.
With the deposits being of such high quality in Ellrich, the company there is also able to supply specialty plasters for the medical, food and animal feed industries. Environmental protection has been an integral part of the company’s business both at CASEA and at its parent company REMONDIS for many years now. Right from the beginning, measures were taken to integrate the production facility into the landscape in an environmentally friendly way – when planning, refurbishing and expanding the gypsum plant. To ensure the deposits are used sustainably and to protect the surrounding areas, a pilot project is being implemented at the Rüsselsee quarry which aims to gradually “restore” the quarried areas and enable nature to reclaim these spaces. Moreover, FGD gypsum and recycled gypsum are also used alongside the naturally sourced materials to conserve the raw material reserves.
Over the last 20 years, the framework conditions for gypsum quarries have steadily worsened. Towards the end of the summer, therefore, CASEA’s employees – the majority of who come from the South Harz region – called on politicians to create fair conditions for their industry to safeguard the future of the gypsum quarries and production facilities. Using the motto “Living and working with nature”, they argued their case to ensure they continue to have jobs long into the future. Minister President-elect of the state of Thüringen, Bodo Ramelow, visited Ellrich to find out more about the plant, about the sustainable way gypsum is quarried and about the importance of gypsum for so many products and industries.
Dr Alfred Schiffer, a managing director at CASEA, summed up his impressions of the visit. “You could really sense his desire to get hold of this issue and really understand it. Indeed he did this quite literally by touching the boundary stones along the edge of the plant which are, of course, made of gypsum.” After the meeting, Bodo Ramelow said that he had learned many new things about gypsum and had been truly surprised about the many different uses of this natural product. Before he left, Dr Schiffer once again pointed out that quantities of FGD gypsum will gradually decrease as Germany switches from fossil fuels to renewables and for this reason alone natural gypsum is indispensible. Time will tell whether this message has been taken on board by the politicians.
(from left to right) Dr Alfred Schiffer and Silvio Löderbusch, Managing Directors of CASEA GmbH, together with Bodo Ramelow, parliamentary party leader of the ‘Die Linke’ party in the Thüringen state parliament, in the control room of the gypsum plant in Ellrich