Two Lignite Regions Prepare Themselves for the Future


Environmental scientists from RWTH Aachen University and BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg have analyzed how the past and present shape the future of Germany's two most important lignite regions and which opportunities should be exploited.


Many years of diverse lignite mining have fundamentally reshaped the landscapes of both Lusatia and the Rhineland. With the progressive decline of mining and its planned termination within the next decade, the nature of both regions will change emphatically. The end of lignite mining means profound change, and this is not only the case for Lusatia. The Rhineland is also being faced with major changes. What can both regions learn from each other? Which challenges are identical and which are region-specific? How can they be solved?

A team of authors from environmental, geological and economic sciences at the Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg (BTU) and the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen (RWTH) provides answers to these questions in their recently published paper in the renowned journal Environmental Sciences Europe. The paper is entitled "Perspectives of lignite post-mining landscapes under changing environmental conditions: what can we learn from a comparison between the Rhenish and Lusatian region in Germany?".

BTU scientists Professor Thomas Raab and Dr. Werner Gerwin, together with Professor Frank Lehmkuhl from RWTH, are the initiators of the study. Together with eleven colleagues, they have highlighted both the challenges and opportunities for post-mining landscapes. "The two lignite mining areas differ significantly," says Dr. Werner Gerwin of the BTU's Research Center Landscape Development and Mining Landscapes (FZLB). "In particular, the abiotic and biotic environmental factors, specifically soil properties and climatic conditions, but also the socioeconomic conditions lead to very different perspectives for the development of these two regions during and after the ongoing transformation process."

The two largest lignite mining areas in Germany are located in geographically opposite regions: Lusatia in the east and the Rhineland in the western part of Germany. Due to the different conditions, there are significant differences in the functions and services that the respective ecosystems can provide to humans. In the two regions, different mining technologies, as well as reclamation strategies, were developed and deployed according to the natural conditions, which affected the post-mining landscapes and the ecosystem services that they were expected to provide. "For example, in the Rhineland, high-quality arable soils can be restored with the fertile loess, while in Lusatia, often only sandy and mostly nutrient-poor soil material is available," Dr. Gerwin said. "This has led to the fact that in the Rhineland, high-yield agriculture can also be practiced in post-mining landscapes, while in Lusatia, alternative land use options are currently being increasingly considered." In addition to the production function, however, biodiversity must also be kept in mind as another landscape function.

Bioeconomy and Tourism in Lusatia

In the view of the researchers, the post-mining landscapes in eastern Germany offer potential for a future bioeconomy precisely because of their poor soils. Instead of trying to practice low-yield agriculture on these soils, they could be important production sites for bioenergy crops (especially fast-growing woody plants or grasses) or of plants that can be used as renewable raw materials. Examples would be so far little used shrubs like broom or fiber plants like alfalfa or also hemp. Consideration is also being given to combining such crops with adapted photovoltaic technology (Agri-PV).

In the short to medium term, the scientists expect great potential in the Lusatian mining area in terms of tourism. The newly emerging lakes play a central role in this. A prerequisite for future economic development is the modernization of the Lusatian infrastructure, such as an efficient transport system and fast Internet.

Sustainable Agriculture in the Rhineland

In the Rhineland, the study team sees more potential for intensive sustainable agriculture. However, in the view of the scientists, the focus must primarily be on protecting biodiversity: integrated retreats for plants and animals as well as the integration of ecologically important structures such as hedgerows or natural streams.

The researchers agree that the prerequisites for positive socioeconomic development and for sustainable land use concepts that also take ecological aspects into account are indeed different in both regions. Nevertheless, or precisely because of these differences, the transfer of knowledge and experience between the two mining regions are of central importance for the success of this comprehensive transformation process.

See the paper Gerwin et al. 2023: Perspectives of lignite post-mining landscapes under changing environmental conditions: what can we learn from a comparison between the Rhenish and Lusatian region in Germany?.

Contact Persons

Chair of Physical Geography and Geoecology
Department of Geography
Telephone: +49 (0) 241 80 96064

Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg
Telephone: +49 (0) 355 69 4225

Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg
Chair of Geopedology and Landscape Development
Telephone +49 (0) 355 69 4226