20 Aug 2020, 13:39
Edgar Meza

Germany’s gypsum supply threatened by coal exit - report

Tagespiegel Background

Germany’s coal exit is threatening the country’s supply of gypsum, Steven Hanke reports in Tagesspiegel Background. More than half of the gypsum used in Germany is derived from the exhaust gases of domestic coal-fired power plants, and the federal government has yet to present a plan to replace the enormous quantities of gypsum that will be lost when the country’s coal plants are shuttered, writes Hanke. While there are alternatives, such as natural gypsum, finding new sources will take some time and they come at a price. The expansion of gypsum mining, the most obvious solution, is already facing stiff resistance. Most of Germany’s natural gypsum reserves lay dormant in Thuringia. The state’s premier,  Bodo Ramelow, has already warned that Thuringia’s scenic Harz Mountains are in danger of being excavated and quarried.

Germany  consumes around 10 million tonnes of the mineral every year for a wide range of uses, from blackboard chalk for schools, to medical plaster casts and, above all, in construction. Gypsum is the basic material for drywall plasterboard, which is already in increasing demand due to climate protection and the energy saving measures such as building renovations, Hanke notes, citing federal government forecasts. As early as the early 1980s, operators were obliged to equip their power plants with flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) systems. Around 90 percent of the sulfur dioxide from the exhaust gases can be captured and processed by the gypsum industry. According to the federal environment ministry, all power plants are now equipped with such systems, a move that has led to a major reduction in the mining of natural gypsum deposits.

The government has put any decision on the matter on the backburner, Hanke writes. According to the country’s coal exit law, the first government review of the coal exit measures, including its impact on the gypsum supply, is not scheduled until August 2022. “The federal government is aimless,” said Steffi Lemke, who oversees nature conservation for the Greens in the parliament. “There is a threat of massive expansion of gypsum mining and the destruction of valuable nature,” she warned. The Green Party parliamentary group is calling for an action plan from the federal government to develop a strategy for dealing with gypsum. Germany plans to exit coal by 2038 at the very latest.

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