The origins of the German cement industry

Bonn cement works 1906

In Germany, industrial production of cement was begun in 1850 by the company Brunkhorst und Westfalen in Buxtehude near Hamburg. Further plants were soon to follow. TO begin with, the cement factories had an annual output of around several thousand tonnes. With the propagation of concrete constructions, the cement industry experienced a rapid boom. By the late 19th century, there were already some 50 factories in Germany. Rationalisation of production was a key challenge even back then. Spatially separate process steps – raw material obtainment and preparation, firing and cement grinding – were merged at single production sites in the form of integrated cement works. 

Development up to 1945

The boom of the German cement industry lasted until the First World War. With the outbreak of war , the economic boundary conditions deteriorated: there were supply shortages, prices exploded. In 1917, production and shipment of cement became subject to state control. After sometimes highly turbulent developments in the 1920s, the cement industry was forced into a mandatory cartel in 1933. In 1938, cement production reached – due in some part to Germany’s war effort, of course – a record high at 16 million tonnes. For the cement industry, the outbreak of World War Two brought increasing shortages of fuel and raw materials. During the war, forced labour was employed in the cement industry, too. In recognition of their responsibility, the industry’s enterprises one and all joined the foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future”, which handles recompense of forced labourers.

Post-1945

During the rebuilding of the Federal of Germany, the building industry became the economy’s driving force. The cement works were modernised and in the late 1950s, new plants with annual outputs of around 500 thousand tonnes were added. Some of the plants even achieved an annual output of around 1 million tonnes. Following an economically difficult period in 1967, Westphalia in particular witnessed a ruinous price war, mainly due to overcapacity. This headed off a concentration process. But the demand for cement soon grew again and, in 1972, reached an all-time high at 42 million tonnes. Within a year, the cement industry took a double blow in the form of the oil crisis. At the time, the industry’s fuel mix was predominantly composed of fuel oil – the exploding fuel costs forced a return to the traditional fuel coal at great capital expenditure. Simultaneously, the onset of the recession collapsed demand for cement and lead to yet another price war. Following a period of stabilisation, cement shipments continued to drop in the 1980s, reaching a record low of 22.9 million tonnes in 1985.

With the reunification of Germany, there emerged a massive requirement for building work, manifesting in an increased demand for cement. At the same time, the industry was faced with the enormous challenge of modernising the completely outdated cement plants in East Germany. A total of 1.5 billion euros were invested, creating state-of-the-art plants that boast an annual output of around 2 million tonnes. A major part of the investments was used for environmental protection, improvement of energy efficiency and substitution of natural resources by secondary materials. The modernisation process in East Germany illustrates that the minimum technical scope for optimum operation of a cement works has continued to grow. Today, there are Asian cement works that produce an impressive annual output of more than 10 million tonnes.

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