KLEINTETTTAU: With its 400-year history, the Heinz-Glas group, which produces glass bottles for the best perfumes, together with L’Oréal, has seen the storms pass. But the gas crisis rocking Germany could be fatal.
“We live in a critical situation,” said Murat Agac, chief assistant to the CEO of this German family company, which has seen thirteen generations at its head since 1622.
“At the end of the gas release (…) the glass work will be lost,” he said.
Based in the crystal region of Rennsteig, straddling Bavaria, in the south of the country, and Thuringia in the east, the company is one of the major international players in the sector.
In its Bavarian factory in Kleintettau, almost 70 tons of glass emerge every day from the noise of the machines and the heat of the furnaces.
To create and shape this material, the factory needs high temperatures, up to 1,600 degrees. Gas is used extensively in this process.
Until now, the well has flowed freely, and at a low price, thanks to the pipelines connecting Germany with Russia.
But that era is over. Moscow reduced its exports by 80% after the war in Ukraine.
As a result, prices rise. For Heinz-Glas, “the price has increased by ten, sometimes twenty compared to 2019”, a situation that is “uneconomical”, thinks Murat Agac.
In Kleintettau, the small pots, decorated with relief motifs, are shaped in the kiln, carefully inspected by the workers, before being sent to the company’s customers – including French L’Oréal.
The consequences of the suspension of Russian gas exports are very sad for the company, which produces a million of these bottles a day in Germany.
The furnace of the company’s second factory in Piesau, a mountain village under the pastures, will be permanently damaged if it stops, according to Mr.
Even at the Kleintettau factory, where the ovens run on electricity, about “40%” of the industrial process still runs on gas.
Like Heinz-Glas, it is the entire German industry, the mainstay of the economy in the euro zone, that is threatened.
Russian gas accounted for up to 55% of German imports before the war in Ukraine.
The producers are preparing for the immediate end of the deliveries, while the rationing method is being promoted by the government.
BASF has launched a major plan to replace gas with fuel oil at its second German plant. The Henkel company, a specialist in detergents and adhesives, plans for its sector to make greater use of telework.
To achieve this, Heinz-Glas invested in a liquid gas storage tank, which can be reached every day by car.
But this is a price “three times better” than it is now, and it’s not enough.
In the long term, the replacement of the entire physical system with electronic technologies can cost “50 million euros” for the company, an amount that is considered unaffordable.
“We need state support,” said Murat Agac, leaving the problem of moving to India or China, where the company is located.
The company’s two German factories also require the equivalent of “3,000 football fields of solar panels” to operate.
For the company’s 1,500 employees in Germany – and 54,000 employees in the country – the outlook is therefore bleak.
“I’m old, but the young people here are afraid of their jobs,” Michaela Trebes, 61, told AFP, looking at hundreds of small bottles coming out of production lines, well organized.
The administration tries to appease the soldiers.
“When we were founded, we lived through the Thirty Years’ War (…) the plague. And in the 20th century alone, the First World War and the Second World War, the oil shock. We will overcome this problem”, said Ms. .Agac.