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Bucket-Wheel Excavators: The Most Destructive Machines on the Planet?

The bucket-wheel excavator has long scoured the lignite fields of western Germany, erasing whole villages and leaving a trail of bad soil and salty water.

the bagger bucket wheel excavator

With all sorts of claims being made about clean energy and clean tech, it is more than a mere academic exercise to explore what those terms really mean. One way of defining something is by defining what it is not. For example, the large bucket-wheel excavators like those used in the open-cast lignite mines of western Germany are not clean tech. And here’s why…

At 300 feet tall and 600 feet long, the largest bucket wheel excavators are the biggest land vehicles ever made. Though they only dig at a maximum of 0.37 mph, these machines move 240,000 cubic meters of material daily, about as much as a football field dug to 100 feet deep.


Because they continuously dig, transport, and dump material twenty-four hours a day these machines require 16 megawatts of externally supplied electricity; and there are twenty-two currently in use in the four open-cast lignite mines in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. 

garzweiller II lignite mine in Germany

Bucket wheel excavators have been working these lignite fields since 1933, playing an instrumental role in fueling the Hitler machine with coal-based synfuel. Over the years, the mining activities have scarred the land and created massive canyons, reaching up to 500 metres deep and over 10 Km wide (see a 360 degree panorama of the lignite coal mine in Garzweiler). Continued…


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Written By

is the founder of ecopolitology and the executive editor at LiveOAK Media, a media network about the politics of energy and the environment, green business, cleantech, and green living. When not reading, writing, thinking or talking about environmental politics with anyone who will listen, Tim spends his time skiing in Colorado's high country, hiking with his dog, and getting dirty in his vegetable garden.


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