Ferropolis, Photo by: Brian Carmen
Brown Coal in Germany
Being in Germany for the past two months, we have seen many different sources of energy while traveling throughout the country. You can see solar energy with the solar panels, wind energy with the windmills and fossil fuel energy from burning coal being used for many different purposes, no matter which direction you travel. Even though there are many different sources of energy being used throughout the country, the most important source of energy in Germany right now is coal. In Germany there are two significant types of coal. These two types of coal are hard coal and brown coal (“Germany”). Traveling to Ferropolis, an old brown coal mine museum, with our class allowed us to have a first hand view of what goes on at such coal mines.
Brown coal, or lignite, is a combination of coal and peat. The coal is yellowish in color and has a woody texture (Tyler). Brown coal beds are very large and are close to the surface. With the beds being so close to the surface, they are more easily worked. This leads to a very low cost in the production of brown coal. Lignite also contains a lot of moisture. Due to this, it supplies less energy per kilogram than other types of coals. With the large amount of water brown coal contains, up to 75 percent, it makes it very hard to transport long distances because, if it is exposed to air, it will begin to dry out and could eventually crumble (Kopp). Many power stations were built near mining sites to take out long transportation times in order to make sure that the brown coal would not dry out and crumble. Out of all of the coal production, 80-90% of the coal is being used in electricity production (Tyler).
Brown coal mines in Germany can be found from Koln in the west and throughout the country as you move eastwards. A lot of coal mines in eastern Germany have closed down though due to the fact that lignite in eastern Germany is less profitable than the brown coal in western Germany. Most large brown coal mines can have a life of up to 50 years. These brown coal mines target coal seams of around 50 to 75 meters thick. To get to these brown coal seams, most mines go down 300 meters and from time to time will go down to 400 meters. However, in western Germany to get to these large lignite seams, the mines go as deep as 800 meters. Most of the seams that are of this size are located at the center of Tertiary basins. The struggle with these large mines is that they have to relocate communities in order to get to these large seams of coal (Tyler). Once these mines close, the land becomes almost useless. Ferropolis is a great example of taking advantage of exhausted coal mine.
The City of Steel
Ferropolis, located in in city of Gräfenhainichen, used to be the center of brown coal mining in the Golpa-Nord open mining space. The work in this area began in 1957, with extraction beginning seven years later. This field of work became huge, as brown coal was the main energy resource during these days in East Germany. After much expansion, there were 20 operating mines with 6,000 employees. Every year approximately 100 million tons of coal was extracted (“Ferropolis: City of Steel”). Although the mining grounds were a great way to provide work for people in the area, the mining took a toll on the land. Deep holes were created in the ground, and although the Golpa-Nord holes were smaller than holes in other locations, the earth was still greatly affected. Additionally, resources needed to get brown coal was not an environmentally friendly process. To gather one bucket of brown coal required sick buckets of water to be sent in and five buckets of unusable resources to be sent out and dumped (“Ferropolis: City of Steel”). Using this much water to get a much smaller amount of coal was an ineffective way to use resources. Mining in Ferropolis was controversial because it had “secure jobs and excellent performance by workers and engineers,” but it was also “a place of unbridled industrial power and environmental disaster” (“Ferropolis: City of Steel”). These environmental impacts were stopped when, after decades of work, brown coal mining was suddenly halted and became a thing of the past in Saxony-Anhalt and the rest of East Germany.
The brown coal mining industry was close to collapse in Germany in 1991 after almost 40 years of mining. With this change in plans, professionals had to decide what to do with the land. Should everything be torn down and scrapped or should the tracks be covered up? The answer was given by the Bauhaus Dessau. Today Ferropolis has been turned into an area offering “a museum, an industrial monument, a steel sculpture, and event location and a theme park all at the same time,” in addition to being set next to a beautiful lake with picturesque scenery (“Ferropolis: City of Steel”). This solution has given the land a second chance and has set a new, positive example on dealing with nature. The museum of Ferropolis is an open-air museum with five excavators that were used during the mining times. Tours are offered at the museum and visitors can even climb the 2000 ton, 60 meter long machine nicknamed Gemini (“Ferropolis: City of Steel”). These five steel monuments serve as a reminder to the environmental consequences that resulted from exploitation of the land (“Ferropolis: City of Iron”). Ferropolis has thrived as an event destination, hosting international festivals and concerts in its 25,000- seat venue (“Ferropolis: City of Steel”).
Mining excavator, “Medusa”, Photo by: Alyssa Lane
Gremminer Lake, Photo by: Jamie Pence
Ferropolis is the perfect example of how innovators created a new perspective of landscaping in an extremely environmentally friendly way. It would have cost thousands of dollars to get rid of all the old mining machinery. However, instead of trashing all the material, money was saved and the area has turned into a beautiful space with green trees and a clear lake. The lake is located on top of what used to be the coal mine. Flooding this area and creating a beautiful space has helped to drastically increase biodiversity of plants and animals in the area. Turning Ferropolis into an environmentally friendly area has turned this area of disaster into a location of celebration for all kinds of life. The hopes for future ecological practices are reflected in the Ferropolis. This area “has become the symbol of a path chosen for this century” (“Ferropolis: City of Iron”). Looking to the near future, Ferropolis hopes to further their environmental practices by becoming completely powered by renewable energy, mostly solar power (“Ferropolis: City of Steel”). Despite this wonderful landscaping that has benefited the environment in many ways, there have been consequences of the long-time mining, as there have been all around the world.
Effects of Brown Coal Mining
Brown coal plays a huge role in air pollution with high emission levels of greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide. The problem with these gases is not just the effect on the environment, with rising temperatures and increasing smog levels, but is also the negative impact it is having on the human population. The air pollution that comes from brown coal is massive compared to other fuels such as black coal or natural gases. The United States primary fuel sources consist of coal, oil, and natural gasses, and are estimated to be at roughly 85 percent of current fuel use ("The Hidden Cost of Fossil Fuels."). A few years ago, along with the Canadian Province Victoria, Germany had one of the highest known percentages for the emission of greenhouse gasses due to the burning of brown coal. However, Germany is also one of the few countries that has since then lowered their percentages. ("The Problem with Brown Coal | Environment Victoria.").
Chancellor Merkel has proposed to lower emissions by 22 tons with having a ‘climate fee’, along with energy efficient and green buildings. The only issues expressed about these plans has come from coal miners and major utility companies. This fee “would have forced operators to buy extra certificates for their emissions from the European Trading Scheme for CO2 emission allowances, thus making electricity from lignite less profitable” (Schwagerl). To help solve this problem, they have come to the conclusion that they will not shut down all brown coal companies, but will decrease the size of the coal mining industry by taking away the three largest coal companies in the country.
The problem that humans face with the burning of coal is the lack of fresh air that is constantly being breathed in. There are growing concerns about the expansion of coal mining and medical experts are being asked about coal and its effects on health. In the United States and all over the world there are indications that coal mining and the burning of coal has increased the risk of people having cardiopulmonary disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, respiratory issues, in addition to other medical issues ("The Hidden Cost of Fossil Fuels."). The rates for the diseases are more common in coal mining areas. Therefore, in regions where brown coal is in high demand, rates for the diseases are also high. Processing chemicals and toxic impurities in coal and dust from uncovered coal trucks also increase the likelihood of health issues. Lessening the use or completely abandoning the use of brown coal as a resource would help lower the possibilities of these medical issues occurring (William, et al). Though global climate change has been a constant problem over many years, doing away with the burning of all brown coal would help to level out temperatures, smog in the air, carbon dioxide, and greenhouse gas emissions more so than they are now. Due to levels already being so high, there could be a drastic decrease in the percentage of toxic emissions. Though there is considerable evidence regarding the safety for our environment and the health of people, agencies are still wanting to monitor and assess safety protocol of mines and the uses of the source.
With all the negative effects brown coal has had on the environment, shutting down the mining in the West of Germany was a good way to start reversing the harm that had already been down to the land and the atmosphere. Ferropolis is a prime example of how to be resourceful and eco-friendly. It has shown how to preserve history while also helping and improving the future of our earth. The disaster that used to be here is now a beautiful gathering place for all to enjoy.
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