From prestige project to industrial site with a future


The Hamburg aluminum plant celebrates its anniversary. The groundbreaking ceremony for the industrial complex at the port in Altenwerder took place 50 years ago. The ambitious project gave a powerful boost to Hamburg as an industrial location and has survived several crises in recent years. Around 1,100 people work in the aluminum smelter and rolling mill with adjoining recycling plant and foundry. They supply the automotive industry, packaging manufacturers and plant constructors with around 150,000 tons of aluminum a year. By adapting to a power supply from regenerative energies, the Hamburg aluminum plant is today setting an example for the future viability of domestic industrial production.

September 22, 1970 marked the start of construction of the Reynolds Metal Company aluminum smelter and rolling mill. After three years of construction, the plant began operations. The US company, at that time the world's third-largest aluminum producer, was thus establishing a site in a booming region. At the same time, a large power plant and an alumina factory went into operation in Stade. This secured the supply of electricity and aluminum oxide, the most important raw materials for aluminum production. Added to this was the good infrastructure in Hamburg with the Elbe Tunnel, which had just been completed.

Today, TRIMET Aluminium SE operates the aluminum smelter, which produces around 135,000 tons of aluminum annually. Most of this supplies the rolling mill operated by Norsk Hydro with an adjoining foundry, where the light metal is further processed and prepared for industrial production. The employees of both companies are proud of their aluminum plant. "The shared history is a strong basis that we also feel in our day-to-day work. Together, we are ensuring that this site is fit for the future," says Hydro plant manager Jan Peterlic.

Among the TRIMET workforce, the reconstruction work following the interim closure of the aluminum smelter is still alive and well. "Many colleagues repaired and started up the cold furnaces with their own hands 13 years ago. That created a special "we" feeling, which still characterizes us today," says TRIMET plant manager Dr. Jörg Prepeneit. After the site had already run into difficulties in the 1970s as a result of the oil crisis and had been taken over by new shareholders, at the beginning of the millennium the aluminum smelter in particular fell into crisis. Rising electricity prices made energy-intensive aluminum production less and less profitable by international standards. In 2005 the then owners shut down the smelter and more than 500 employees lost their jobs. At the end of 2006, the Essen-based family company TRIMET took over the aluminum smelter, brought back the workforce and restarted the electrolysis furnaces.

Since then, the operators have continuously invested in the technical modernization of the production facilities and their focus on resource conservation and climate protection. In 2008, for example, Hydro built an additional recycling melting furnace in the foundry. Up to 50,000 metric tons of recycled aluminum are produced here annually from beverage cans, license plates, production residues and other products. The aluminum smelter supports the conversion of the energy supply to renewable energies. In a pilot project, TRIMET is currently testing a process in which the electrolysis furnaces adapt to fluctuating amounts of electricity from wind and solar power plants. The three wind turbines on the site of the aluminum plant are therefore also a sign that the future of the industrial location is being shaped in Hamburg-Altenwerder.