The Hambach mine is located between Jülich in the Düren district and Kerpen (Rhine-Erft district), in the heart of the Rhenish coalfields. Mining started there in 1978 near the Hambach district of the town of Niederzier and now occupies most of the space that once belonged to the forest bearing the same name.
Below the 85 km2 coalfield, 2.5 billion tonnes of lignite deposits are located at depths of up to 470 metres. Mining is scheduled to continue there until the middle of this century. Together, the Hambach mine and its two sister operations at Garzweiler and Inden meet around 40 % of the power requirements of the populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Home to the largest operational excavator in the world
The around 1,300 employees at the Hambach mine work with the largest automated machinery in the world: the bucket excavators are 220 metres long, 96 metres high and weigh 13,500 tonnes. At 10 metres per minute, they are anything but fast. However, speed rather than output is the crucial factor: they are able to move 240,000 tonnes of coal or overburden every single day – enough to fill a football stadium 30 times over. The excavators are operated by three to four members of staff per shift.
Most of the overburden is deposited on the excavated side of the Hambach mine, helping to prepare the ground for recultivation. By contrast, the lignite ends up on the 22 km Hambach railway, a double-track industrial railway, in order to make its way to the power plants and RWE refineries between Grevenbroich and Hürth. The Hambach mine produces around 40 million tonnes of lignite every year.
The creation of a popular leisure destination
Another visible landmark of the mine is the Sophienhöhe hill, covered in woodland and towering over the flat plains with an elevation of 200 metres. It is made up with some of the spoil from mining. The spoil tip was established and reforested from 1978 onwards and since then, over 10 million trees have been planted there. Hikers and recreational sports enthusiasts enjoy the 120 kilometres of trails in the completely car-free area, which has been popular from day one. The biodiversity here has been proven to be very high.
In addition to the reforestation and agricultural recultivation, the mine will also leave behind a hollow for a 40 km2 lake once its operations have ceased. Over a period of many decades, it will be filled with rising groundwater and with water from the River Rhine via a pipeline.
In the event of any environmental impact resulting from the Hambach mine, please use our citizens’ helpline.