Looking for new paths
Rheinbraun diversifies and internationalizes its businesses: In a joint-venture with U.S.-based Consolidation Coal Company, it acquires a stake in the development and exploitation of extensive hard coal deposits in Pennsylvania.
The “Uranerzbergbau GmbH”, a joint-venture of Rheinbraun and the german mining company ‘Preussag AG’, acquires an interest in the Key Lake uranium mining and processing facility in Canada, which goes into operation in 1983. Rheinbraun had already been involved in other uranium projects in Canada (1970) and Australia (1980). As the shareholders refocus their activities on the core businesses, they sell their uranium ore mining interests to Canadian Cameco Corp. in 1998.
In order to be able to better adapt the supply of natural gas to big seasonal swings in demand, VEW starts operating an underground reservoir for the storage of natural gas in Kalle, Emsland.
Rheinbraun experiences the first tangible results of its energy research, which has been strongly supported by the German federal government in the wake of the second energy crisis. A pilot plant for hydrogenating carburation of lignite goes on line at the Wesseling refinery of its subsidiary ‘Union Kraftstoff’; this is followed soon afterwards by a trial plant for the liquefaction of lignite. The pilot plant for gasifying coal by the Winkler High-Temperature Process (HTW), commissioned in 1985, supplies synthesis gas at the Wesseling refinery for processing into chemical products (including methanol) until the end of 1997. Years later, after 2006, the experience won in coal gasification is beneficial to the development of a climate-friendly coal-fired power plant including carbon capture and storage (CCS).
VEW commences with the construction of the nuclear power station Emsland in Lingen in cooperation with the utility Elektromark, based in Hagen. In April 1988, the 1,300 megawatt power station goes online.
The increasing severity of environmental legislation necessitates a broad-based program of desulfurization and denitration of RWE's coal-fired power stations. This is a major challenge, and not only from a financial standpoint (DM 8.3 billion for RWE's own and contracted plants): In many areas, new technology must first be developed by RWE in order to comply with the prescribed thresholds. The program, completed in 1988, includes the shut-down of some older plants.
In Hamm, the Thorium-High-Temperature-Reactor 300 (THTR) begins experimental operations. VEW has a major stake in the operating company. This nuclear power station produces high temperatures of up to 1000 degrees Celsius which seem to promise a cost-effective steam and heat supply for the chemical industry, for coal gasification or even for ironworks. The plant is closed down due to technical difficulties after only three years during which experimental operations were already subject to repeated shutdowns. Massive additional costs mean that the efficient operation of this reactor type seems impossible and in 1988 the shutdown is made official.
The beginning of mining operations at Rheinbraun's Hambach strip mine marks a new dimension in Rhenish lignite mining. For the first time, it is necessary to remove 150 meters of overburden in order to reach the top seams of lignite and even heavier equipment is required. The decision to develop strip mining, taken back in 1974, is hastened by the 'rediscovery' of the importance of domestic fuel sources in the wake of the first energy crisis. On the other hand, the 'world's largest hole' sparks wide-ranging discussions, even outside of the region, about the environmental impact of lignite mining.
In northern Essen, work begins on the new Karnap waste-to-heat cogenerating plant to replace the old incineration plant, which is no longer able to comply with the more stringent environmental stipulations.
VEW acquires a 22 per cent stake in RAG, the ‘Ruhrkohle AG’, Essen from the holdings of the former Ruhrkohle shareholders ‘Salzgitter AG’, ‘Krupp Stahl AG’ and ‘Harpener AG’. In 1987 this share is increased to over 30 per cent with the takeover of a further 8.25 per cent from the French ‘Societé Nouvelle Sidéchar’. This makes VEW the second biggest RAG shareholder, following VEBA.
A far-reaching investment program involving modernization and rationalization is concluded at 'Union Kraftstoff Wesseling', and this leads to marked improvement of operating income over the course of the following years. The former hydrogenation plant had been converted to a refinery after the Second World War, with ammonia and methanol production plants being added. As it has no crude oil production facilities of its own, 'Union Kraftstoff' is seriously affected by the shake-out in the petroleum industry after the two energy crises.
North of Koblenz, the Mülheim-Kärlich nuclear power station on the Rhine begins full operations with 1,300 megawatts. However, due to errors in the licensing procedure the plant is shutdown on court order in the following year. In 2000, after years of legal wrangling and a new licensing procedure, RWE abstains from putting the plant into operation again against the backdrop of the German so-called ‘consensus on nuclear power’.
RWE takes a decisive step toward diversification of the Group with the acquisition of the ‘Deutsche Texaco AG’, Hamburg, which began in 1899 as ‘Deutsche Tiefbohr AG’ and had been doing business since 1911 as ‘Deutsche Erdöl AG’ (DEA). The chemicals and petroleum group is renamed ‘RWE-DEA AG für Mineralöl und Chemie’; Union Kraftstoff is integrated and the refineries and filling stations are renamed for the DEA brand. This long-term move into new business areas intensifies deliberations about a reorganization of the RWE Group, which are implemented in 1990.
In its corporate management, RWE breaks with a long-standing tradition: Until now the company had been managed by a board of management whose members enjoyed equal status. Now, two members of this board are appointed its spokesmen: Günther Klätte and Friedhelm Gieske.
Activities in the field of waste management, until this point limited to incineration and water management, are merged into newly-founded ‘RWE Entsorgung AG’, Essen, and further expanded. Together with Trienekens, a Rhenish waste management group, RWE Entsorgung expands its business activities to include the entire Federal Republic of Germany and, soon after, into numerous foreign markets (including Eastern Europe and the U.S.).
In the course of the year, RWE is able to increase its stake in the ‘Nukem GmbH’, Hanau, to a majority interest. This company, which had originally concentrated exclusively on nuclear technology, had shut down its fuel element production and transport operations in the year before. As a member of the RWE Group, the ‘new’ NUKEM, based in Alzenau near Aschaffenburg, evolves into a services and engineering company operating in the process, solar and environmental technology sectors, as well as in plant engineering and uranium trading.