Thursday, June 9, 2011

Germany - Day 4 Part IV - Brown Coal Mine

After leaving Zons, we stopped by a large "open pit" brown coal mine. We had looked for this mine yesterday, but were unable to find it. Can you imagine not being able to find such a large hole in the ground. We knew it was there but just couldn't find the right road. Today we were successful. Below is a panoramic view of the mine from the edge of the pit.

The term "open pit" refers to the fact that there is no underground mining done here. The coal seam is accessed by removing the dirt "over burden" that covers the coal. Removing the dirt is actually the largest part of the mining process. The coal seam itself may only be a few feet thick in some cases. I suspect that this seam was much thicker. Some of the coal mines in Wyoming have seams that are 50 feet thick. Brown coal is a low grade coal compared to the black coal that most people are more familiar with. Brown coal has lots of moisture in it and does not burn or store well once mined. The excess moisture causes lots of CO2 emissions and smoke which is harder to contain than with better quality coals. But hey, this is what the Germans have to burn and importing better coal would be too expensive.

Germany is beginning to back away from nuclear power generation (a mistake) so they will have to rely more on their Brown Coal reserves in the future. There are only so many ways to make electricity. For those who think that solar or wind will fill the needs of the future, you need to educate yourselves before pushing hard for these niche technologies. Yes, I am a real certified honest to goodness expert on the topic after 36 years in the industry.

Petro-chemical and power generation plants ring the mine so they can eliminate the fuel delivery costs that other plants might have to pay. Coal is usually delivered from a mine on rail cars, barges, ships, trucks, etc. to where it is used and there is a cost for this transportation. Plants located at the mine are called "mine mouth" plants and can be feed via conveyor belts directly from the mine.

I know that the mine looks pretty ugly but as I said before we couldn't see it well enough the night before to even find it. As the coal is removed, the land will be reclaimed and re-vegetated. It will be safe to build on in the future or just leave it as a wildlife nature area. In 50 years, no one will be able to guess that this big hole was once here. I know because I have seen it happen before. I spent many summers in Minnesota where my mother's family was located. I watched the open pit mining for iron ore there as I grew up. Those old pits were never filled in as they do in other mines. They are now excellent fishing lakes that would never be recognized as former iron mines and they are surrounded by dense forests and wildlife.....they are beautiful.  Here is a photo of what Minnesota Mine Country looks like today.  By the way, the fishing is great.

This is a link to an article about what the local communities have done with the former mine pit areas.

Next.....something very beautiful and tasty.

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