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Water in Retired Coal Mines Could Heat Homes

Researchers in Scotland are looking into ways that the natural water flooding old coal mines might be used to provide decarbonized heating to buildings, according to CNBC.

What’s happening: “Conducting this research is a facility known as the Glasgow Geoenergy Observatory, which is run by the British Geological Survey. A dozen boreholes have been drilled, with the majority in Rutherglen, a town southeast of Glasgow.… Glasgow and Rutherglen were home to some of the busiest coal mines in Scotland. After their closure, natural floods filled them with water of about 12 degrees Celsius.”

  • The project has made significant progress in the past year, with pumping tests now complete and samples collected from 10 of the boreholes at the site.
  • Groundwater under Glasgow has measured between 11 and 13 degrees Celsius, 1 to 2 degrees warmer than the average temperature of Scottish groundwater; this difference could provide geothermal promise.

Why it matters: Approximately a quarter of the U.K.’s residential properties sit atop coalfields. According to Britain’s Coal Authority, “the ‘constantly replenishing water within these mines could potentially be a large enough resource to provide all of the heating requirements for the coalfield areas.’ It could also have applications in sectors such as manufacturing and horticulture.”

  • The groundwater is low-carbon and sustainable and “could deliver carbon savings up to 75%” compared to current heating approaches, the Coal Authority noted.

Other groundwater projects: In northeast England, the Hebburn Minewater Project will draw geothermal energy from retired mines to heat several government buildings.

  • “A water source heat pump will extract the mine water’s heat, after which it will be compressed to a far greater temperature. After being funneled to an energy center, a new network of pipes will be used for distribution.”
  • In 2008, the Netherlands opened the world’s first mine-water power station. A similar project has developed in Spain.

The NAM’s take: “There is no single silver bullet; we need all options on the table, including policies that incentivize renewable thermal energy options,” said NAM Director of Energy and Resources Policy Chris Morris. “While some technology solutions are still early in development, prioritizing research, development and deployment of low-carbon energy solutions like geothermal can expedite the diversification of our energy fingerprint and reduce our carbon footprint. It is encouraging to see the international community making progress on low-carbon energy solutions and the benefits these technologies can have for manufacturers. The NAM looks forward to working with our partners and policymakers to pursue these priorities in smart, sustainable ways.” 

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