Germany has more solar power than anywhere else in the world. But even it's a clean energy leader, it also happens to lead the world in production in lignite coal.

The largest open lignite mine is the Hambach Mine, the biggest human-made hole in Europe, at nearly 1,500 feet deep.

Photographer Bernhard Lang recently visited the mine to take aerial photos of the site.

Everything at the mine is at a giant scale: The machines inside, scooping out coal and moving around sand and dirt, are each the height of 30-story office buildings and twice as long as soccer fields.

“From above, the scenery with these huge ‘monsters’ in this strange mining surroundings, reminded me of another barren planet out of a science fiction movie,” says Lang.

“It was also impressive to see the immense dimensions of these reclaimers in comparison to the usual diggers standing next to them, looking tiny.”

The mine produces about 30 million tons of brown coal a year, and it's expected to keep pumping it out for another 25 to 30 years.

Though the country has big renewable energy goals, brown coal is a cheap and available way to keep power flowing as more renewable plants come online.

So for now, even though older hard coal mines are being phased out in the next few years, brown coal pits continue to expand, threatening to swallow up more nearby towns.

As he flew over the Hambach mine, Lang says he was struck by the weird beauty of the patterns the machinery left in the dirt, "looking like abstract paintings."

But he also wanted to show a problem that hasn't necessarily gotten that much attention in a country that's trying to be greener.

"For me, images of opencast brown coal mining with its huge machines biting into the soil show quite directly the human impact on, and exploitation of, our environment," he says.

Keep scrolling for more images.

Keep scrolling for more images.

Keep scrolling for more images.

Keep scrolling for more images.

Keep scrolling for more images.

Keep scrolling for more images.

Keep scrolling for more images.

Keep scrolling for more images.

Keep scrolling for more images.

2014-06-20

Co.Exist

Take A Trip To This Horrifying Mine, One Of The Largest Man-Made Holes In The World

The largest hole in Europe is an open-pit coal mine in Germany, and everything inside is just enormous, including machines that are the length of two soccer fields and the height of a 30-story building.

Germany has more solar power than anywhere else in the world, and it gets about twice as much power from renewable sources compared to the U.S. But even though the country considers itself a leader in clean energy, it also happens to lead the world in production of a certain kind of particularly dirty coal.

In the 1970s, the country started carving out giant open mines for lignite (or brown coal), taking down forests, farms, and even entire villages along the way. The largest is the Hambach Mine, the biggest human-made hole in Europe, at nearly 1,500 feet deep. Photographer Bernhard Lang recently visited the mine to take aerial photos of the site.

Everything at the mine is at a giant scale: The machines inside, scooping out coal and moving around sand and dirt, are each the height of 30-story office buildings and twice as long as soccer fields.

“From above, the scenery with these huge ‘monsters’ in this strange mining surroundings, reminded me of another barren planet out of a science fiction movie,” says Lang. “It was also impressive to see the immense dimensions of these reclaimers in comparison to the usual diggers standing next to them, looking tiny.”

The mine produces about 30 million tons of brown coal a year, and it's expected to keep pumping it out for another 25 to 30 years--despite the fact that it's even more polluting than the regular "hard coal" that's mined deep underground, and that the government is aiming to use 80% renewable energy by 2050.

But after Fukushima, Germany decided to shut down nuclear power plants, and brown coal is a cheap and available way to keep power flowing as more renewable plants come online. So for now, even though older hard coal mines are being phased out in the next few years, brown coal pits continue to expand, threatening to swallow up more nearby towns.

As he flew over the Hambach mine, Lang says he was struck by the weird beauty of the patterns the machinery left in the dirt, "looking like abstract paintings." But he also wanted to show a problem that hasn't necessarily gotten that much attention in a country that's trying to be greener.

"For me, images of opencast brown coal mining with its huge machines biting into the soil show quite directly the human impact on, and exploitation of, our environment," he says.

Add New Comment

22 Comments

  • Jim Troyer

    solar is pitifully inefficient, and we keep finding more reserves of oil and gas. As long as they are ignorant fools educated in the drive by media we will have to listen to these fool hearted rants masquarading as news stories. Solar power is so weak it took us 10 days to "race" from Indy to Denver - former president ASU Solar Racing Team

  • So nuclear is to blame, even though hard coal is available, just a bit more expensive? And even though the choice to "go solar" could have been made long ago, before Fukushima? Clearly greed is the real cause this open pit mine is still open. Countries that choose to go solar now will be greatly rewarded later: No Fukushimas, no Chernobyls, no Three Mile Islands, not even any San Onofre's... and if they never tried nuclear, no nuclear waste dumps. (Otherwise, at least the waste dump stops growing and begins to decay away (takes millions of years, though) when they close the nukes). Shutting down the nuclear power plants isn't what keeps this coal pit open. It's just that some people like making the profit, and the locals like the jobs (after all, the coal is burned elsewhere for the most part, so what do they care if it's polluting?).

  • Millions of years eh. Which isotope would that be? I realize you're using hyperbole, but don't we have enough fear mongering and misstated facts on both side of every issue these days? If you're opposed to nuclear power... fine, for it... fine. I've worked on nuclear power plants and now work in wind power. I see so much distortion and misleading info on both sides.

  • Scr Sixonenine

    he flew over the mine to take pictures. Was that aircraft powered by the sun?

  • Bill Mackintosh

    You use Solar energy every day you use plant matter for fuel (coal and oil) and eat vegetables and the plant fed meat animals.

    You pathetically uneducated fool1

    YOU are all solar energy and solar matter (where the heck to Carbon atoms form in this universe...in a Sun).

  • Terry J. Crebs

    Bingham Canyon in Utah is the largest man-made excavation on the planet according to Wikipedia. Utah Copper began mining this low-grade Cu-Mo porphyry deposit in the early 1900's.

  • D.b. Swanson

    No exploitation going on here, just finding to meet the needs of consumers. Sometimes you have to make big holes to supply cheap energy, so if you don't like big holes, I suggest you STOP using the energy they create for you. And I don't mean just at home. You should divest yourself of cheap energy wherever you go on this planet. Once you have done so, then you can complain. Otherwise shut-up and don't bother people with miniscule issues.

  • Octavion Mercury

    As far as I'm concerned, "Horrifying" in the title is a verb that best describes the author's state of mind rather than the actual mine itself. What mental midgets like Ms. Peters can't (or refuse to) comprehend is how much their standard of living depends on mining.

  • Ron Britvec

    Yes, "Horrifying" is clearly an opinion expressed by an ignorant "journalist". I'm not sure the writer really is a journalist.

  • Owe Johnst

    You're really quoting Boing Boing? That article is complete crap. It says nothing about the cost or that your electric bill and the price of everything you buy would double or triple!

  • o.hauss

    Hilarious, coming from someone who ignores the costs of mitigating the consequences of using bituminous coal. "The price of everything you buy would double or triple" - what price human lives? What price resettling entire cities?

    Your comment is complete crap and it suggests you slept all through science classes.

  • Darcy Marketfog

    We've been looking at the carbon loading of the atmosphere from coal, but have overlooked the other pollution that coal mining creates. Other energy sources leave virtually no physical residue from burning. A substantial portion of the coal being burned ends up as ash. What do you do with the ash? It's bulky, dirty, and potentially poisonous. Drainage from the mine is loaded with sulfuric acid. The overburden cannot be used for farming because the fertile topsoil is gone and the ground is filled with rocks. The back-fill is unstable so building can't be done without special ground stabilization. About all that be done is plant grass and trees and let it set. Surface coal mining leaves large swaths of surface unusable for decades.The burning of coal releases other noxious products. Upwards half of the mercury pollution in the air comes from burning coal. Nitrogen oxides created by higher burning temps turn to smog. Fly ash and H2SO4 will wipe out a forest.

  • dwescott

    Drainage from coal mines can be contained and dealt with. We do it in the US and they do it in Germany and many countries around the world. The overburden (spoil piles) can be used as farmland. Laws dictate the saving before mining and the re-depositing of topsoil after the machines pass through. Especially in the eastern part of Germany, the reclaimed spoil piles can and do have entire towns and villages rebuilt on them to replace the ones that were mined through. The reclaimed areas in the Saxony area of Germany, near the Polish and Czech borders have many relocated towns, much farmland, large forests and lakes for recreation. I worked there for several months and was very impressed with their efforts to restore their mines to as natural of state that was humanly possible. Horrifying is for people in the 21st century to do without affordable electricity to run their heaters and air conditioners.

  • Ron Britvec

    There are so many uses for coal that we would all be seriously impacted without coal. Do some real research and educate yourself. It's likely that many of us would not be here were it not for coal and it's products and byproducts.

  • jason

    Makes the oil drilling equipment we build look puny. I would love to work on the design team for that equipment. www.spartaengineering.com