6 July 2012
100 years of the Bernburg salt plant
High-quality products from domestic deposits
A century after the digging of the first Bernburg and Gröna shafts began, the Bernburg salt plant will be celebrating its 100th plant anniversary over the coming two weekends. The plant can look back over a colourful history. Today, the Bernburg plant is one of three German salt mines belonging to the leading European salt producer, esco – european salt company. The company is part of the K+S Group, one of the most important German commodities companies.
The plant is located in a region characterised by mining since the Middle Ages, and which can also look back at a long tradition of salt extraction. After the mining companies (“unions”) “Bernburger Kaliwerke” and “Gröna” were founded in 1911, the digging of the shafts began in 1912 at Bernburg (March 1912) and Gröna (April 1912), marking the real birth of the plant, which was initially only orientated to the extraction of potash salts. Already in 1913, the precious raw material began to be extracted and the potash factory commenced operations. In 1921, the extraction of rock salt also began, of which large reserves of a particularly high quality are available in the Bernburg deposit.
Salt – an indispensable mineral for mankind and industry
Salt is a fundamental part of life. The natural product, one of the mineral raw materials of which notable deposits exist in Germany, can also not be replaced by anything else in our modern world. Due to its importance for the human diet, but also as a pharmaceutical substance, raw material for many chemical processes and as a de-icing agent for winter road maintenance, salt is also called “the raw material of 10,000 applications”.
The mines of the Bernburg plant cover an area of about 40 square kilometres. The miners extract rock salt which, due to its pure white appearance and coarse crystalline structure, is called crystal salt. Its level of purity is, on average, 99 percent sodium chloride (NaCl). The best parts of the deposits even reach 99.8 percent NaCl.
After a first processing stage underground, the coarse broken salt is brought to the surface and goes through further grinding and sieving stages there. These make possible the efficient production of different grain sizes, so that customer wishes can be fulfilled quickly and flexibly.
Two thirds of annual rock salt production is accounted for by de-icing salt. Furthermore, special food grade salts, industrial salts and feed salts are produced, as are water-softening products. Rock salt production is supplemented with a modern vacuum salt production, which was established in the course of plant modernisation in 1996 for about 60 million Euro. Here high-quality vacuum salt is produced from saturated brine, which is extracted from a neighbouring brine field. This vacuum salt is mainly used for table and food salt but also as compacted salt or tablets for water-softening as well as for dishwasher salt.
Uncompromising quality requirements
All phases of the production process are subject to constant quality checks. These begin when the materials are extracted at the mine and continue in all production stages right up to the dispatch of products to the customers.
The Bernburg plant’s quality management system was first certified in accordance with DIN ISO 9002 in 1994, at that time a rarity in German industry. Today, all esco plants are checked in accordance with the EN ISO 9001 norm. Moreover, in many areas, for example in the case of pharmaceutical products or food grade and feed salts, the fulfilment of further high standards is recognised with corresponding certificates.
Modern production technology and efficient logistics
With a technical production capacity of about three million tonnes a year, the company can provide up to 2,000 tonnes per day of packaged goods and up to 18,000 tonnes of bulk goods. This ranges from small packages through 25- and 50-kilo sacks and 1-tonne big bags right up to de-icing and industrial salt of loose bulk goods. Effective logistics is particularly important in winter, when demand for de-icing salt rises dramatically. Then up to three warehouses and five further loading points load up to 400 trucks and 250 railway carriages per day.
Cavern operations and liquid gas storage
The favourable conditions of the Bernburg salt deposit have been used since 1965 to extract saturated brine in the Gnetsch brine field. The resultant caverns, evenly shaped and stable hollow spaces at a depth of several hundred metres offer ideal conditions for the safe storage of natural and liquid gas. The underground storage system set up in 1974 is today operated by VNG – Verbundnetz Gas AG and has, after several expansion steps, a capacity of 14.1 million cubic metres of natural gas.
The salt plant itself has storage in two caverns for liquid gas with a related terminal, which, with a capacity of 80,000 tonnes, is one of the largest of its kind, and can supply an immense area in the region.
A reliable factor in the region
For the Bernburg region, the salt plant is, as one of the most important industrial operations, an important economic factor. Not only do 440 people find employment here, but trainees are also regularly engaged, who gain a solid basis for their professional development in the plant. At present, 40 young people are acquiring what they need for their later activity as mining technologists, industrial engineers, plant electricians and industrial administrators.
With total wages, investments and the volume of orders for craftsmen and service companies, the plant adds more than € 40 million in value to the region year-on-year.
About K+S and esco
The K+S Group is one of the world's leading suppliers of standard and speciality fertilizers. In the salt business, K+S is the world’s leading producer with sites in Europe as well as North and South America. K+S offers a comprehensive range of goods and services for agriculture, industry, and private consumers, which provides growth opportunities in virtually every sphere of daily life. More than 14,000 people work for the K+S Group worldwide. K+S – the commodity stock represented on the German share index, the DAX – is quoted on all German stock exchanges. More information about K+S can be found at www.k-plus-s.com.
esco – european salt company is responsible for the European salt business within the “Salt” business segment of the K+S Group. As the largest supplier of salt in Europe, esco has three rock salt mines, two brine plants, and several plants processing evaporated salt in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, and has numerous distribution sites. Its annual production capacity is about 9.7 million tonnes of crystallised salt and salt in brine per year. Further information about esco can be found at www.esco-salt.com.