The last lignite briquette factory in West Germany in Frechen near Cologne will finally cease production on Wednesday. For 120 years, ground raw lignite was pressed into briquettes. The energy packages, which weigh just under a pound, have been the most important product of the Rhenish lignite industry for decades, said a spokesman for the operating company RWE. Briquettes were used in households and industrial establishments throughout Western Europe.

Later, oil and gas competed with solid fuels – especially for heating homes. From the 1960s, lignite was increasingly used to generate electricity. However, there is still demand for briquettes: They are also sold in hardware stores, for example, to fire stoves. However, entire apartments or houses are rarely heated with climate-damaging coal: in 2021, the chimney sweep trade in Germany counted almost 86,000 heating systems that ran on coal (including hard coal), most of them in manual operation.

Half of the employees are retiring

While around 685,000 tons of briquettes left the presses in Frechen in 2021, according to RWE, it will be around 300,000 tons this year. For comparison: In 1960, 20 factories in the Rhenish mining area still produced a total of 13.6 million tons of briquettes. Around half of the approximately 500 employees in Frechen are retiring. The others continue to work in other RWE companies.

According to RWE, briquette production will be discontinued as part of the phase-out of coal. Lignite dust, which will be used as an industrial fuel, will continue to be produced on the factory site until the final phase-out in 2030. If possible, industrial jobs are to be created on the freed-up areas. There is already an interested party, said the RWE spokesman.

A small celebration is planned for Tuesday at the plant. The last shift on Wednesday ends at 10 p.m. As a reminder for employees and collectors, a special briquette is to be produced in a small number.

After the closure of the factory in Frechen (brand name: “Union”), briquettes in Germany are then only produced in the Lusatian lignite mining area under the brand name “Rekord”. The factory is in Spremberg-Schwarze Pumpe in Brandenburg. According to the operator Leag, around 300 people work there. Around 700,000 tons of briquettes would be produced there this year. Around 800,000 tons are planned for 2023.