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Gravel – A Very Special Commodity

The challenge of extracting gravel, a raw material for the construction industry

Gravel is the most important German domestic building raw material. That is a statement by the experts at the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe, BGR) in their eponymous study (Commodity TopNews No. 62).

However, in Germany, the extraction of gravel and other building raw materials poses huge challenges for all those concerned. This is because, for geological reasons, gravel is rarer than sand, yet demand is much higher – according to Dr Harald Elsner, the lead author of the study.

First and foremost, gravel is required for the manufacture of concrete. For some time now, building raw materials, but especially gravel and also crushed natural stone (crushed rock and grit), have been in short supply. 

Elsner cites the following examples from Germany. In 2016, shortages in the supply of building raw materials for the construction of roads arose, for the first time, in Hamburg and then, in the subsequent year, in the Ruhr valley, too. In 2018, these shortages spilled over into building construction in the Ruhr valley as well as in the metropolitan areas of Mannheim-Karlsruhe and Berlin/Potsdam.  In the meanwhile, in other regions – for example, in parts of Lower Saxony and Bavaria – contracts for larger construction projects are no longer being accepted, regular clients are being supplied as a matter of priority and quantities of gravel are being allocated according to availability.

A further aggravating factor is that a large proportion of the deposits of sand, gravel and natural stone in Germany cannot be used for gravel extraction because competing uses, such as national and European water conservation areas, nature reserves and protected landscapes as well as areas covered by structures, mean that these deposits are not available for mining. In Saxony, such priority use plans have already been drawn up for approximately 50% of the land area and in Baden-Württemberg even around 70 % of the land area and, thus, this land will not be available for raw material extraction.

Furthermore, for years, areas that may qualify for approval for raw material extraction have not been allocated in sufficient numbers and, moreover, only at a very slow pace. In several regions of Germany, according to the BGR study, production at major sand-gravel deposits will be discontinued in the next few years. However, replacement areas of land are not being designated by the competent regional planning authorities to the extent that is necessary; instead, these areas are being rezoned and ongoing approval processes are being rejected, particularly at the municipal level.

In conclusion, the BGR study notes that if, in the future, gravel is extracted from just a few pits then this would also result in a greater burden for the local population and the environment, higher prices due to the transportation distances as well as accelerated gravel extraction from the few excavation areas that are approved.

So, when it comes to the excavation of sand and gravel, it’s a good thing to be able to rely on experts who understand everything there is to know about the possibilities and restrictions and – like STICHWEH, the company based in Lower-Saxony – can provide excellent service to ensure the smooth extraction of sand and gravel. STICHWEH provides plant technology and preparation systems for the stone and quarry industry worldwide, ranging from sand and gravel extraction, including quarrying, right through to classifying in accordance with best industry practices.

The range of sand and gravel extraction machines and systems for the world market includes: drag scrapers, bucket wheels, log washers, screening machines, jigs, pumps and cyclones, as well as complete solutions and special solutions.

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