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.

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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.

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30 Comments

  • Mike Thomas

    Those Bagger 288s require 16+ megawatts of power to operate. That's just staggering!

  • Arthur Cuelho

    I have hope for that new fusion system coming out, then you can all shut up about coal and the old fission plants.

  • Bud Wickman

    Why not let Germany do what it wants to do... We have enough problems in this country to deal with... Read, Liberal Nut Jobs.

  • Mark Juenemann

    Of course, the word "greed" you always see sprinkled through these anti- fossil fuel comments can always be replaced with the word "economics". Mark

  • 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

  • Shawn Crapo

    Ny house is completely solar. Not only do I not have a power bill, but the power company pays me for the extra power that I feed back into the grid. Solar power is not weak; it is efficient for personal use. Instead of building solar power plants, people should make their individual homes solar powered. It's not that expensive anymore, and you get tax breaks.

  • Dennis Davis

    You get money back and the rest of us pay for it by giving you tax breaks.

  • 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.