Tag Archives: reuse

Bunkers, Landfills, and Energy. (oh my!)

This afternoon in Hamburg, we explored several converted sites that now produce renewable energy.

After our lunch in the Mensa at the Department of Urban Planning and the Environment on Wilhelmsberg (an island created by a fork in the River Elbe), we traveled to the Energiebunker, a former WWII air raid bunker that has been converted into a renewable energy power plant. It was built in 1943 using 80,000 tons of concrete and offered shelter for over 30,000 Hamburg residents. In 1947, British Allied troops demolished the interior of the bunker. The building remained unused for over 60 years, but in 2010 the rubble inside was cleared and rehabilitated as part of the International Building Exhibition (IBA). Then in 2013, a terrace on the eighth floor was opened to the public. The building has a 1300m2 south-oriented solar shell with a 99KW peak. The panels on the roof produce thermal solar energy, while those on the side produce power. The bunker has other renewable efforts: a biogas CHP-unit produces power and heat, an ongoing woodchip-plant project produces heat, and the waste heat of nearby industry is stored in the bunker’s natural gas boilers (capacity: 2 million Liters) and supplies the local heat grid. The grid has a radius of about .5km, providing heat to 3000 households and electricity to 1000 households. The project cost 27 million Euro total: 15 for refurbishment and 12 for the energy concept. Hamburg took the initiative to convert a WWII Nazi bunker into a sustainable energy plant. Looking forward, Hamburg.

Next, we went to the Energieberg. Like the Energiebunker, this landfill was converted to a renewable energy production area. We watched an epic video presentation that made waste management appealing. The story begins in 1945, when a mountain of rubble was compiled from destroyed towns. It was called Georgswerder. Four years later, it became a waste dump for nearby manufacturers. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, no one was worried about what this waste heap could morph into… In 1954, Germany won the World Cup; in 1961, the Berlin Wall was erected; in 1962, one third to a half of Wilhelmsberg flooded; in 1963, JFK was assassinated; In 1969, man landed on the moon. So, in 1967, when dioxin was being produced in Hamburg, no one thought anything of it. Even when the hazardous waste was dumped at Georgswerder. “The waste will absorb the toxins” was the general sentiment. But as the most poisonous chemical humans have created, dioxin is 10,000 times more poisonous than cyanide. Birth defects affected villages in the vicinity and people became incredibly sick. The toxin was found in seven different locations. Finally, in 1984, the hazardous mound was covered and the toxin was contained so it could no longer seep into the groundwater. This transformation was only possible because of people’s efforts and cries for a safer environment. Something we could use more of in the US – citizen involvement. The site was publically opened in 2011, with solar and wind providing energy for 4000 household (20% of Wilhelmsberg).

Our last stop was a house owned by Conrad, a friend of our guide. The house is a multi-family home with shared cars, solar energy, and a 20-KW CHP unit. They have 2 Tesla batteries that store the energy throughout the day, and use that energy for the home and car charging. Excess solar energy can be sold to the grid at 12 Eurocents/KWh, and extra CHP-produced energy can be sold at a range of 4-6 Eurocent/KWh. Perhaps what is even more interesting is that Conrad owns a wind park. Or a part of it. He and six neighbors started the project and others from adjacent villages invested. Conrad’s wind park contains twelve 3-MW turbines, producing 100 million KWh/year for 25,000 households. Wind energy is not taboo here, as it is in some US states. In some parts of North Carolina, people of resisting the energy transition. It is almost a German right to own part of a wind park. Now, we just need to bring this mindset back to the US.

-Kaitlyn Ave’Lallemant

The Ruhr Transition

The Ruhr area has transitioned from major coal and steel production into one of the “green” guiding lights of Europe

Today, we began with a wrap-up discussion of our time in Eindhoven. We then travelled to the town of Essen, which is in the Ruhr area, which is considered the old industrial heart of Germany. There, we visited the Zollverein Industrial Complex, an old coal mine transformed into a museum and took a tour led by guide Peter Reuter. Walking up to the museum I was struck by how huge the physical infrastructure of a coal plant is.

We begin our tour by looking at a small scale version of the complex.
The building of Zollverein Industrial Complex.

Beginning in the early 19th century there was a huge steel and coal mining industry that moved into the Ruhr area. It completely industrialized the small farming area, which led to a huge economic boom. It also led to horrible pollution. In the 1950’s pollution was so bad that you could only see 17% of the sunlight on the ground during the day- they had to keep street lamps on at all times. The typical life expectancy for miners at that time was only 25 years, so they were encouraged to get married and reproduce young. This brought up an interesting point. Our guide said that industrialization led to the realization of human rights as more than a philosophical argument.

We got to look into the coal mines’ mills, which used to crush coal into smaller pieces with its own weight.
Students look at examples of the size of the coal before and after milling.

Soon, technology progressed to the point where miners were no longer needed. They became almost completely replaced by machinery, something that is continuing to happen in the coal industry in America. Misplaced miners were reeducated and highly valuable in industries similar to coal, such as steel. However, it still took time for acceptance. Many old mines were turned into event venues, art galleries or restaurants. Old miners would refuse to go to these places at first. Now they are some of the most popular venues in the Ruhr area. This was a really great example of ways to reuse old infrastructure and avoid razing and rebuilding. Many of the old railroad tracks that went to pick up coal have been repaved into bike paths and other forms of transportation infrastructure.

On the rooftop, we could see the many surrounding towns and cities making up the Ruhr area. Because they were originally small farming communities before industrialization, many don’t have a city center.
Old mines have become some of the most popular event venues in the Ruhr area.

As one of the poorest areas of Germany, many things still need to change for the Ruhr region. The outsourcing of steel in the 1980’s left many out of work. Now, much of their economy comes from the over 1 million tourists that visit the region each year. While there are still many large businesses based there, the majority of work is mechanized. Most jobs are minimum wage, and are service oriented. Despite this, there are many new initiatives that are hoping to bring more vitality to the region. The Ruhr area is incredibly diverse, thanks to the many international investors and diverse cultures that have moved there, which allows many different paths and innovation to occur there.

In 2017, Essen was given the European Green Capital Award, which is given to one European city that consistently meets environmental standards and is committed to improvement and development of sustainability. Our guide explained the way that Essen got the award as being just letting all of the plants grow nonstop, except to add biking paths and pedestrian areas, which led to trees and wildlife areas springing up everywhere. They have also completely redone their wastewater management system. Originally a manmade system of open sewers, they have converted it into enclosed underground sewers while retransforming the original water systems into near-natural bodies of water.

The 150-year transformation from polluted coal and steel industrial area into the Green Capital of Europe is inspiring and provides a beacon for cities trying to redevelop.