With flexible, environmentally sound and sustainable processes, we responsibly recycle and recover not only lead, but many other metals that benefit humanity and are essential for a forward-looking modern life.
Facts & figures
First lead production
Entry into lead recycling
Part of the Glencore Group since
Lead production per year
Secondary materials used per year
Proportion of recycled material in use
Sulphuric acid production per year
Purity of our lead ingots
Customised grades of lead
Weight per lead bar
Nordenham Metall GmbH + Nordenhamer Zinkhütte = Glencore Nordenham
Koen Demesmaeker: Coordinator Glencore Nordenham
Dr Ulrich Kerney: Managing Director NMG + NZH (focus NMG)
Rainer Wahlers: Managing Director NZH + NMG (focus NZH)
years of experience
€ 13.5 million
will be invested in environmental projects by 2023
1. Nordenham Metall – from traditional lead smelter to modern metal producer
Nordenham Metall GmbH is one of the best-known and oldest industrial companies in the region. Lead has been produced at the smelter on the Lower Weser for more than 100 years. For many decades, the main method for obtaining lead was to extract it from ores. Since the 1990s, lead recycling has becomes increasingly important. Today, more than 70 % of the lead produced annually in Nordenham comes from secondary sources – i.e. from lead-containing waste and residues such as car batteries, lead scrap, ashes, drosses and residues from zinc extraction containing lead. This makes Nordenham Metall not only one of the oldest lead smelters in Europe still active today, but also one of the most important lead recyclers.
In the early 20th century, the company benefitted from its strategically favourable location on the Unterweser, which is deep enough for seagoing ships. Steamships from all over the world brought ores to Europe, which could be smelted in Nordenham. For more than 100 years, the lead smelter – together with its “sister”, the Nordenham zinc smelter – has been a very important pillar for the regional economy in and around Nordenham.
In the course of its long and eventful history, the lead smelter has had many names and different owners. Since 2021, it has been part of the Glencore Group under the new name Nordenham Metall GmbH. The new owner Glencore has set itself the goal of significantly developing the company and leading it into the future – as a modern polymetallic smelter that extracts and utilises numerous other metals in addition to lead and sulphuric acid: for example, copper, silver or gold, but also rare elements such as antimony or bismuth. To realise this ambition, the company’s portfolio will be expanded in stages in the coming years.
2. Responsible lead production – investing while protecting the environment
Lead still plays an important role in many branches of industry today. This is due to its special characteristics such as its high density, resistance and malleability as well as its special electrochemical properties. More than 80 % of the lead extracted worldwide is used to produce car batteries. Other important areas of application include the chemical industry, radiation protection and to manufacture weights.
But there is also a flip side. Since the 1970s, it has become increasingly clear that lead is harmful to health, which is why it may only be handled under the strictest safety conditions. Lead-processing companies therefore have a huge responsibility. Nordenham Metall always puts its responsibilities to people and the environment at the forefront and takes them very seriously.
Over the past few decades, tens of millions have been invested in new technologies and environmental protection measures. For example, emissions from the lead smelter have been reduced by more than 98 per cent (?) since 1990. And projects are taking place all the time help further improve environmental protection. The main aim here is to increasingly minimise the formation of lead-containing dust and isolate existing dust from the outside world in a controlled manner.
Glencore will invest an additional EUR 13.5 million in environmental projects at Nordenham Metall by 2023. This will include the construction of further enclosures and developing new solutions for transporting materials.
3. Metals recycling – driver for the circular economy
To throw away or to reuse? With resources finite and world population steadily growing, there is clearly only one answer to this question. Developing a circular economy, while moving towards more and more sustainability and recycling, is the fundamental future engine of our time.
Metals recycling has a key role to play here as a wide variety of metals are the fundamental components of our modern lives. Products we use every day such as cars, smartphones and laptops could not exist without them. But extracting metals from ores not only has a natural limit, it also requires an extremely high energy input. In contrast, systematically recycling lead, zinc, aluminium, etc. can preserve important resources and save considerable amounts of energy at the same time.
As a company in the recycling industry, Nordenham Metall is making an important contribution to a sustainable recycling economy. In the case of lead, too, the most important source of raw materials today is recycling. And for good reason: unlike other materials such as paper or plastic, metals can be recycled virtually for ever – while maintaining the same high quality. A lead ingot recovered through recycling is practically indistinguishable from lead produced primarily – i.e. from ores. Old car batteries are particularly popular as secondary materials as in addition to the lead they contain, plastics and sulphuric acid can also be separated and almost 100 % of the lead-acid battery can be recovered.
In 1996, Nordenham Metall entered the recycling market when it commissioned the bath smelting furnace. Since then, the recycling of lead from secondary sources has played an increasingly important role at Nordenham. Today, more than 70,000 tonnes of lead per year – around 70 % of the lead produced annually in Nordenham – already come from secondary sources such as car batteries, scrap lead, lead ashes and drosses, and residues from zinc extraction containing lead.
Recycling also plays a crucial role in terms of CO₂ emissions and climate neutrality: it is not for nothing that the recycling industry is considered the only industry that saves more greenhouse gases than it produces.
Statements by the management ...
... on the importance of the circular economy:
Recycling is and remains the safest and ecologically best form of securing raw materials in Europe. If we do not fully exploit this potential, the EU will not reach its ambitious climate target. Smart and durable products are an important step, but only when we focus on consistently returning valuable resources to the cycle can true sustainability happen.
... on the new start under the Glencore umbrella:
With Glencore, it is not only a new name that has moved into Nordenham, but a new spirit. Glencore’s corporate culture and the additional expertise it has in almost all areas will ensure that we can significantly raise our previous standards in all areas: in environmental protection, in occupational safety, in the areas of corporate and innovation culture, but also in structural as well as technological issues. With Glencore, we are starting a real new beginning.
Glencore’s commitment to continue operating the lead smelter has come at exactly the right time and is the optimal solution for the Nordenham site. With the potential and innovative strength of this internationally leading commodities company, we will continue writing new chapters in the 100-year history of Friedrich-August-Hütte in Unterweser and lead it into the future.
... on the commitment to environmental protection:
As a lead processing company, we are aware of our responsibilities towards people and the environment and take them very seriously. At Nordenham Metall, we continuously invest in projects that serve to protect the environment and help reduce emissions further and further. For the next two years alone, Glencore is providing a further EUR 13.5 million for environmental protection projects. In addition, there is the baseline study, which we are conducting in cooperation with the state of Lower Saxony and the district of Wesermarsch. As part of this study, the condition of soil, air and water in the vicinity of the plant will be permanently monitored over a period of about 12 months. From this we hope to gain new insights into the origin of immissions as well as a better assessment of existing contaminated sites.
... on the joint future of Nordenham Metall and Nordenhamer Zinkhütte under the Glencore umbrella:
Our two companies were founded together in 1906 and managed together for many decades. In 2003, they were separated with the sale of the zinc division to Xstrata. As a result, the Nordenham Zinkhütter zinc smelter became a Glencore subsidiary, while the lead smelter continued to be operated by Metaleurop and later by Recylex. Now, after almost 20 years, the two smelters are once again united under one roof. And although we remain two different companies, we will be doing do a lot together again in the future. There are many points of overlap, such as HR or further training. What belonged together for many years will grow together again. 100 years ago we were Metallwerke Unterweser AG – together we are Glencore Nordenham.