Day 5: Essen (part I)

Strip mining Garzweiler and RWE Power Station

On Monday 31st July, Professor Jeromin came to meet us at the hostel in Köln and we all hit the road again. We headed to the Tagebau Garzweiler which is a large surface mine in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia. It is operated by RWE and used for mining lignite. We went first inside the RWE Garzweiler Info-Center, where we met our guide. She was unfortunately more comfortable speaking German with us, so Professor Jeromin and Mona volunteered to translate to English what was said during the whole visit. They did a pretty good job!

We were given some explanation about the extraction of lignite, which is done from 40m to 210m below the Earth’s surface. We were also told that due to the new laws on Energiewende, the mining operations will be shut down in some years, and RWE is already preparing for the future training that the mining industry employees will need for reorienting their career. We were shown some designs of the forthcoming plans in which the lands are reconstructed for agricultural purposes and the mines are filled with water to be used by the neighbouring inhabitants. Then, we went for a bus tour around the excavated land. We were all astounded by the vastness of the landscape (the mining area covers 3.096 ha of land!) and the enormous super expensive bucket wheel excavators – the small electric excavators costs “only” 150 million dollars each and they need 8 operators at the same time.

Later, we travelled with our guide to the RWE Power Station which is a bit less than a 30 min drive from the mining areas. After a short introduction by our guide and Professor Jeromin, we could finally visit the power station, but before: safety first! We were ushered into the changing rooms where we were given safety gears such as safety shoes, head protection, goggles, fluorescent jackets and ear plugs. We followed our guide into a big lift, and funnily in RWE they don’t use floor numbers but rather meters in height, the total height of the building being 170m. It seems that this was common practice in power plants. The noise and heat that welcomed us once the doors of the lift opened were overwhelming. We learned that the production capacity of the plant is 660 MW (at full capacity, 30 000 TN of lignite are consumed per day!) and that the boilers operated at 600°C, 200 bars – no wonder why we felt so hot! We took the stairs and walked all the way up to the top of the building where we could see a magnificent view of the surrounding villages. There we could breathe some fresh air… although we were next to the cooling towers! Back inside, we had a close-up view of the steam turbine, which has a rotating speed of 3000 rpm during the cooling phase. Seeing so many huge machines in one day felt like being in the Transformers movie!

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