Our lead smelter started life in 1906, when investors founded Metallwerke Unterweser AG in the district of Friedrich-August-Hütte. Ores from other European countries and from overseas were sent there to be smelted.
Our first zinc furnace went into operation in 1908, and we started processing secondary lead raw materials in 1912. In 1914, Grand Duke Friedrich August II then authorised the smelting of lead ores – i.e. to produce primary lead. At that time, the smelter employed around 750 people.
Despite a series of adversities such as world wars, economic crises and natural disasters, the lead and zinc smelters managed to survive over the decades. The number of employees, which had fallen during the various crises, rose again, and in 1956 there were about 850 employees working at the factory.
The smelter was the largest employer in Nordenham; in 1960 Preussag AG became the new owner.
From the 1970s onwards, the issue of environmental protection became increasingly important. Tens of millions were invested in new technologies and measures to protect the environment over the coming decades. The plants have been continuously adapted to reduce emissions and increase production capacity. For example, the construction of a new shaft furnace ensured that lead production could be greatly increased: to 70,000 tonnes per year.
In 1988, Preussag AG founded Metaleurop together with French mining group Penarroya, which from then on headed the lead and zinc smelters. The commissioning of a bath smelting furnace in 1996 marked a milestone for the lead smelter: entry into lead recycling. More than 70,000 tonnes of lead are now extracted from secondary material in Nordenham every year.
In 2003, Metaleurop sold the zinc smelter to the mining company Xstrata, a subsidiary of the Glencore Group. The lead smelter remained in Metaleurop’s hands so the two smelters were now operated separately from each other. In 2007, Metaleurop became Recylex S.A. and the lead smelter became Weser-Metall GmbH.
Since 2021, the lead smelter has also belonged to the Glencore Group under the new name Nordenham Metall GmbH. So after almost 20 years, the lead and zinc smelters are once again united under one roof. Today, more than 100,000 tonnes of lead are produced in Nordenham every year. With a reduction furnace, it can flexibly process low-lead precursors and extract more precious metals such as silver, gold and platinum.