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It’s 9 A.M. and the sky over the Lausitzer Seenland – the Lusatian Lake District – is still slightly hazy. Denny Wahle has reached the Koschen Canal. This navigable waterway connects the two lakes, Senftenberger See and Geierswalder See, crossing beneath a highway and the canal trough of a river in the process. Wahle parks up the BMW iX3, takes a seat on a large, stone staircase by the water, and takes in the surroundings. Mining and coal production shaped the face of Lusatia for 150 years. The lunar landscapes of old have now been replaced with over 20 artificially filled lakes, some of which have been set up as nature reserves and others as tourist destinations. Relics of the old energy industry can now be experienced by the public, alongside new architecture and exciting accommodation options – yes, there are even two lighthouses you can stay in by the Geierswalder See – but the landscape is changing forever. The Lausitzer Seenland embodies visionary rethinking, renaturation and the transition from old energy to a new form of use. Here the Propulsion Development Project Manager for the fully electric BMW iX3 has an appointment with Kathrin Winkler, Managing Director of the Lausitzer Seenland Tourist Association, for a short tour.
Changing the landscape, changing mindsets
“The current reality seemed like an audacious dream a few decades ago. And we’re just at the beginning of our vision for the future. We’re gaining experience and making progress every hour,” says Winkler. “From miner to service provider, from coal mining to tourism, this is not just a change in the landscape, it also requires a change to people’s mindsets.”
But for Wahle it is also a place with a special history and the perfect destination for a road trip with the BMW iX3 from Munich to Lusatia, a region some 5 or 6 hours’ drive away that straddles the German/Polish border. “For me, the Lausitzer Seenland, or Lusatian Lake District, symbolizes the transition from a coal mining area to new propulsion technologies and environmental sustainability. I grew up in the region. It’s exciting to see how this idea and the change here give not only nature, but also people a future. It was a big and exciting challenge for me to efficiently break down this new way of thinking and the associated requirements of modern mobility into their individual requirements and to develop an electric propulsion system in line with that basis. A purely electric propulsion system that is efficient, exudes calm and control and at the same time gives that typical BMW feel while also being CO2-neutral – that was what motivated me. It makes me proud to get into this car now and drive to my old stamping ground, a place that also embodies this pursuit of change.”
Preserve history, create new histories
On the way to the next stop on the journey, Grossräschen Harbor, Kathrin Winkler gives Denny Wahle an insight into the Lausitzer Seenland project. “In the region, which has been dominated by coal mining for centuries, there was almost no grain of sand that had not been unturned. The landscape has always been a scene of constant change. The Lausitzer Seenland would not exist without lignite mining, which is why we want to retain the presence of the history of the region at the individual sites. We don’t want to just re-make everything, we want to preserve local identity. As with vehicle design, the pursuit of aesthetics is firmly anchored in our projects relating to the lake district and its ecosystem. Special, innovative architecture is very important when designing ports, hotels and attractions.” In order to further the ecological concept and create awareness early on of what is happening here in the locality, the Managing Director of the Lausitzer Seenland Tourist Association and her team regularly do work with school classes in the region and beyond.
Battery cell technology meets 12,000 tons of steel
The journey through the Lusatian Lake District in the BMW iX3 continues. Denny Wahle’s next stop was once one of the largest mobile machines in the world. The imposing F60 overburden conveyor bridge was built on site between 1989 and 1991 operated until June 1992. The total length of the steel structure above their heads is 1647 ft (502 m), making it some 597 ft (182 m) longer than the height of the Eiffel Tower. A width of 670 ft (204 m) and a height of around 260 ft (80 m) underline just how enormous a structure this is. Today 12,000 US tons (11,000 metric tons) of steel are still remain following adaptation work and the removal of some assemblies. A meeting of contrasts, but this industrial structure and the electric vehicle both represent milestones in development.
“The new BMW iX3 is the trailblazer for the fifth generation of BMW’s eDrive technology. The vehicle offers significant advances in the areas of power density, range, weight, installation space requirements, and flexibility, and in doing so takes up a pioneering role, “explains Wahle. “Bringing this future of propulsion systems onto the road was both a challenge and an incentive for me. To create something together as a team that didn’t exist before.”
What is it that makes this all-electric vehicle so fascinating for him? “When I first take a seat in the car, I feel an incredible calm – quickly followed by an intoxicating acceleration from zero. Propulsion and power delivery are always on hand, and all with marked efficiency. We don’t want to be integrating ever larger and heavier high-voltage batteries – we’d rather let drivers feel the available power even more.” And what’s more, as in nature, a good cycle makes all the difference. That’s why Denny Wahle is proud that BMW has succeeded in establishing sustainable electric vehicle battery production. It is no longer necessary to use the rare earths of the electric car engine; even the use of cobalt can be reduced by 2/3 per kilowatt hour.
“There are four stages to the life cycle of a battery cell. After development and use in the vehicle, the battery modules are given a second life as stationary energy storage devices following their use in a BMW battery electric vehicle. The material cycle is then closed through car battery recycling and extensive recycling of the raw materials. But the beauty here is that, not only does the BMW iX3 help achieve a sustainable footprint, it also offers driving pleasure re-interpreted, great handling and a range of 285 miles (460 km) under WLTP testing regulations. In short, the perfect vehicle to drive into the mobility revolution.”
The Lusatian Lake District as a playground for the future of energy
As Wahle navigates the BMW iX3 to the next stop, Winkler explains that electromobility is clearly also an important element in the Lausitzer Seenland. “Like BMW’s research centers, this area is a playground for the future of energy. The Lusatian Lake District is much more than just water. It’s a tourist destination where opencast mining, landscape transformation and temporary use can be experienced just as consciously as new forms of energy. Look at, for example, the solar-powered catamaran or the Fraunhofer Institute’s Autartec House, which you can see right in front of you here.” This self-sufficient building is located by the north shore of the Bergheider See lake and tests the basis for living actually on the lake. The floating house is self-sufficient: the sun provides the electricity, the walls store heat, and a mini sewage treatment plant cleans the water. In every detail, consideration is given to how to use the available space and conditions as consciously and sustainably as possible.
Wahle is drawn to the lake. He walks down to a nearby boat dock, picks up a stone and throws it dynamically across the water. “I used to love doing that,” he says.
Electromobility in the fast lane
The end point of the tour of discovery through the Lausitzer Seenland can be spotted from afar. The “Rusty Nail” is a weathering steel lookout tower by the Sedlitzer See lake. The structure rises some 100 ft (30 m) into the air. The rust-red patina is a reminder of the industrial history of the Lausitzer Seenland and of steel mining equipment. “A nice contrast to the blue BMW i-applications on the vehicle,” says Wahle, running his hand over the side skirts of the BMW iX3. As the pair climb the stairs, Winkler explains that the platform is a popular destination for athletes looking for a challenge on those very stairs. In addition to floating houses and solar energy, there are also ongoing research projects into concepts such as the integration of a shuttle service in the region provided by hydrogen or electric buses, Winkler explains. To the west of the Sedlitzer See and the Rusty Nail, in the triangle between the Senftenberger See and the F60 mining visitor attraction on the Bergheider See, the concept of electromobility is also moving into top gear. The EuroSpeedway Lausitz motorsport facility, a.k.a. the Lausitzring, is now home to the DEKRA Technology Center for Research and Development. Backed up by an exhaust gas and range laboratory, pioneering tests for all aspects of electromobility and autonomous driving are already taking place here. Winkler reaffirms that “Now is the perfect time for this change. For the region, for the environment, and for people’s mindsets.” Wahle agrees. For him, the BMW iX3 already connects the present with the future. “It’s an exciting journey. And with this fully electric BMW, the journey itself becomes the destination.”
Photos: Jan van Endert; Author: Markus Löblein