Construction begins on €70M combined heat and power plant at Koehler's Oberkirch paper mill in Germany that will convert coal-fired power plant to biomass by fall 2024; project will save 150,000 tonnes of CO2/year as part of group's climate strategy

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April 25, 2023 (press release) –



Construction work began on the Koehler Group’s combined heat and power plant in Oberkirch with a ceremonial groundbreaking on April 21, 2023. The existing power plant is expected to be expanded and converted by fall 2024 to ensure biomass is burnt in an environmentally friendly way in future. This conversion is part of the Koehler Group’s climate strategy.

Decarbonizing energy and steam generation is part of the Koehler Group’s climate strategy. In the long term, both Germany and the EU are striving to become climate neutral. The EU is aiming to reach this milestone by 2050, while Germany is targeting 2045. The Koehler Group has set out even more ambitious targets and is aiming to generate more energy from renewable sources than is required for paper production by 2030.

To mark the official start of construction at the power plant in Oberkirch, the groundbreaking ceremony was attended by the mayor of Oberkirch, Christoph Lipps, external project partners, and members of the Koehler-Group project team, among others. Kai Furler, CEO of the Koehler Group, emphasized: “we don’t view sustainability as a trend, but as a necessity for society’s long term survival. By converting the power plant at our headquarters in Oberkirch, we have made a significant step towards climate neutrality.” Converting the power plant to biomass will save 150,000 metric tonnes of CO2 per year at the Oberkirch site and is another step towards achieving the Koehler climate strategy.

Over EUR 70 million for sustainable investment

In order to generate the energy to produce various special papers from biomass going forwards, the Koehler Group has invested over EUR 70 million in the Oberkirch site. The existing power plant, which was built in 1986, is being adapted for the new fuel through various conversion measures. In addition, two collection points for unloading trucks and corresponding silos will be built. In future, Koehler will use wood chips, green waste, and mill residue as fuel. The advantage of using biomass as a fuel is not only is it carbon neutral, but it is also widely available as only natural wood from the region is used. The Koehler Group will continue to reduce it’s carbon footprint through efficient processes, one step at a time. 

Oberkirch site secured long term

The switch to biomass is also a vital step towards securing the Oberkirch site, where over 1,000 jobs depend on the company’s sustainable approach. There are limits as to the size of the site due to its location, so as a result of this, upgrading the existing power plant was the best option to ensure production is environmentally friendly. Alongside the conversion of the power plant, the “cold reserve” is also being expanded, which can be activated in the event of a shutdown. Burning biomass requires significantly more maintenance work than previously, which causes stoppages. Biomass is also not as efficient as black coal. The larger cold reserve, which will be operated using natural gas instead of heating oil, will however ensure a smooth production process. There are even plans for a mains parallel operation, whereby surplus green energy is then fed into the public grid.

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Jason Irving
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