The F60 overburden conveyor bridge carries out a phenomenal amount of work. On one side of the mine it carries away excavated material and then transports it across the open pit to dump it on the other side. With its three giant chain-and-bucket excavators and a conveyor bridge measuring over 600-metres in length, it is the world’s largest moving mechanical facility. Where its earth removal capacity is insufficient, there are two further powerful excavators working their way through the strong layers of earth. Underneath the overburden conveyor bridge, five smaller excavators mine Lusatia’s second-largest lignite seam 90 to 130 metres below the earth’s surface. Anyone who would like to experience the smooth operation of this colossal machinery park close at hand can do so during a tour of the active Welzow-Süd mine with an expert guide. You will learn, for instance, that around 7 cubic metres of excavated material and the same amount of groundwater must be moved in order to mine one tonne of coal.
There is a tradition of lignite extraction in Welzow. The first smaller pits and shafts were already in existence around the middle of the 19th century and by 1990 had expanded into giant mining areas. The history of the Welzow-Süd opencast mine began in 1959 with extensive drainage works. Seven years later the mine yielded its first raw coal and today the Vattenfall company mines up to 90,000 tonnes of lignite a day. The main recipients are the power station and the briquette factory on the adjacent Schwarze Pumpe industrial site. The excavated top layers are used to re-cultivate the mine and to shape new landscapes. At present, the Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) Fürst-Pückler-Land is spearheading a project to design a completely new landscape on an area measuring about 500 hectares by the year 2030. Man-made recesses, valleys and ridges are to be put to new uses, such as providing a wide variety of opportunities for walking and cycling tours. The implementation of these plans lies in the hands of Vattenfall. Quite apart from that, an area of sustainable raw materials is emerging somewhat further east. The “Welzow energy landscape” is developing new forms of land use to produce biomass. Plants are being cultivated in so-called energy forests and agroforestry systems, and are subsequently converted into electricity and heat by biomass power stations.