DER in Freiberg

The demand for primary energy sources is mounting worldwide. However, there are only limited resources of oil and natural gas. Coal on the other hand is not only an important fuel, fossil and biogenic energy resources can furthermore be used for the production of raw and fine chemicals as well as chemical feedstock with a low environmental impact. In the medium and long term, renewable energies will be able to supply electrical energy to such an extent that the use of coal for power generation will be reduced drastically. Following the substitution of coal in the generation of power and heat, it is therefore necessary to develop sustainable concepts for further utilisation of this coal. As a result, the usage of coal will change substantially. This change will lead from today’s dominating energetic use to the production of chemical feedstock characterised by a new coal chemistry low in CO2 emissions.

After its replacement as an energy source in power generation, coal could play a key role as an alternative carbon source to replace the scarce and increasingly expensive oil. Carbon will remain an essential input for the chemical industry in the future, and in regions with limited biomass supply this demand can only be met with fossil sources. As such, coal chemistry presents the opportunity to extract the carbon from domestic lignite deposits without direct subventions and thus help to overcome the dependence on oil and natural gas imports. Above all, this applies for German lignite, which presents an especially cheap source of carbon for chemical feedstock and which in the energy concept of the federal government plays no long term role as an (energetic) energy source [1]. Compared to its energetic use, non-energetic utilisation of lignite will be able to reduce emissions of CO2 by half.

The potential to establish non-energetic utilisation of coal as a bridge technology is integral to the German Federal Government’s High-Tech-Strategy 2020 [2]. Here it is stated, “Coal chemistry as a bridge technology: Until substitution of oil by renewable sources, it is necessary to advance innovative technologies for the environmentally friendly and sustainable utilization of domestic coal sources as feedstock for the chemical industry .” Similarly, the resource strategy of the Federal Government talks of “a cautious utilization of fossil resources (keyword: ‘Away from oil’)” and the “broadening of the resource scope” by use of fossil energy resources for chemical processes as well as the non-energetic utilization of CO2 [3]. Furthermore, the 6th Energy Research Programme defines the use of lignite for chemical feedstock as one of the major research foci [4]. In a position paper, the associations DGMK and DECHEMA stated that a “competence centre for coal research” should be established to secure, expand, and pass on the existing scientific and technical know-how in the field of coal chemistry.

It is here that the German Centre for Energy Resources (DER) takes the initiative to develop sustainable resource concepts and technologies for the post-oil era based on domestic fossil and biogenic energy resources through the pooling of national energy resource competences from scientific bodies and companies active in the field. Not only do the energy research activities in the DER contribute significantly to securing the energy resource supply and facilitate the nation's independence from oil and natural gas imports, it also contributes to Germany's technological leadership in the world in addition to the creation of new jobs.

As part of the program “Innovation Initiative for the New German Länder”, DER receives multi-million-euro funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and four industrial partners (Vattenfall Europe Mining & Generation, RWE Power, MIBRAG, and


[1] BMWi, BMU: Energiekonzept für eine umweltschonende, zuverlässige und bezahlbare Energieversorgung. 28. September 2010.

[2] BMBF: Hightech-Strategie 2020 für Deutschland. 2010

[3] BMWi: Rohstoffstrategie der Bundesregierung. Oktober 2010.

[4] Das 6. Energieforschungsprogramm der Bundesregierung - Forschung für eine umweltschonende, zuverlässige und bezahlbare Energieversorgung (2011)