Resources of the future for cement and concrete – Potential and action strategies

Executive Summary of the VDZ Study


Utilisation of raw materials and resource efficiency

The exploitation of natural raw materials forms the basis for the production of cement. The most important primary materials include limestone, marl, chalk, clay, sand, gypsum and anhydrite. Small quantities of bentonite, kaolinite, iron ore, oil shale and trass are also employed. For ecological and economic reasons, the majority of cement plants in Germany are located in the immediate vicinity of the extraction areas, so that the raw materials obtained can be processed directly on site to produce clinker and cement.

The cement industry makes use of alternative raw materials to both conserve natural resources and cut CO2 emissions. For the most part, these materials are the by-products of industrial processes. They also occur in the form of ash when using alternative fuels (e.g. sewage sludge, used tyres). More than 90 per cent of the alternative raw materials are put to use in the cement grinding process. Employed as main and secondary constituents in cement, they reduce the clinker content and thus ultimately also the level of CO2 emissions. Today's alternative raw materials such as blast furnace slag and fly ash may well not be available at all in future, or only to a far lesser extent, on account of the energy transition and structural change in the industrial sector.

Efficient use of raw materials

The cement industry makes use of alternative raw materials to both conserve natural resources and cut CO₂ emissions. Natural raw materials such as limestone, clay, sand, gypsum and anhydrite will nevertheless remain indispensable for the cement production process in the long term. The graph on the right shows the amount of raw materials used by the German cement industry in 2019.

Securing and extraction of raw materials

The extraction of mineral raw materials in Germany has to be reconciled with other considerations and interests in an ever more complex environment. Potential extraction sites have to be set down or "secured" in a planning process before these raw materials can be exploited. This initially takes place at a regional level in the form of state development plans and is then specified in more detail in regional plans at local authority level. Land use is however increasingly subject to conflicts of interests, with development plans resulting in the loss of valuable domestic raw material deposits as a sustainable source of raw materials for the cement industry.

A further prerequisite for the exploitation of pit and quarry raw materials is official permission to operate the quarry. Such approval procedures are a complex business requiring long periods of time, usually stretching over several years. It involves investigation of the geological conditions at the site, contact with authorities, experts and the public, as well as the completion of a whole range of application documents. Before incontestable permission is obtained, it is possible for people affected to raise objections which may well significantly delay the approval procedure.


Species conservation and biodiversity

The raw material extraction sites of the German cement industry exhibit a high degree of biodiversity. This is the result of the variety of biotopes found in these areas which have otherwise become rare in Germany on account of widespread cultivation. For the most part, such areas are characterised by extreme local conditions providing primary habitats for highly specialised species and symbiotic communities. Many amphibians such as yellow-bellied toads and midwife toads are often to be found at extraction sites. These species benefit from the extraction of raw materials, as they need temporary shallow areas of standing water with little vegetation to survive. Highly endangered species such as eagle owls and peregrine falcons also take refuge in quarries.

Approved extraction sites are only used for a limited period of time. This is then followed by a phase of renaturalisation or recultivation, during which the companies concerned transform areas which generally used to be of little value for nature conservation into high-grade biotopes. The extraction areas of the German cement plants thus do not represent an obstacle to sustainable development. All the experts agree that disused quarries make a positive contribution to nature and species conservation in their capacity as refuge areas and secondary biotopes. To some extent this is also true of extraction sites still in operation, as renaturalisation tends to begin before the exploitation work comes to an end.

Valuable biotopes

The limestone quarries of the cement manufacturers provide a unique habitat for rare animal and plant species. The extraction of raw materials and species conservation go hand-in-hand.

Legal framework and transparency

The extraction of pit and quarry raw materials for cement production is governed by a whole range of regulations and requirements at European, national and regional level. In addition to securing raw material supplies, another prerequisite is permission to operate the quarry. Such approval procedures are a complex business with public participation requiring long periods of time, usually stretching over several years. It involves exploring the possible effects of the extraction of raw materials on human beings, the environment and nature and how compensation can be provided for these. The way in which the area is to be used following completion of the extraction of raw materials also has to be stipulated before planning can be approved.

The extraction of mineral raw materials is generally also associated with various reporting obligations to inform the public as transparently as possible about these activities. For large corporations at least, the German Commercial Code (HGB) requires the submission of reports on various payments to state bodies in connection with the extraction of raw materials.

German membership of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) entails similar obligations. The principal aim of the initiative is to document the main payments passing between extractive businesses and state institutions. Further reporting obligations arise from the Geological Data Act (Geo-lDG) passed in 2020.

Person to contact

Do you have questions regarding this topic?

Manuel Mohr
Political and economic affairs

+49-30-2-80 02-100

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