I Hot Water: Abandoned Coal Mines Contain a Precious Resource in the Warm Water They Hold Within

Geographical, December 2019 | Go to article overview

I Hot Water: Abandoned Coal Mines Contain a Precious Resource in the Warm Water They Hold Within


Across the UK, 23,000 coal mines lie abandoned. Carved into the subsurface, they now rest beneath 25 per cent of the country's built environment. But these once-productive voids are not dormant. Former coal mines are flooded with water that has been heated by geothermal energy radiating from the Earth's core. If this water could be extracted, experts predict that it could produce enough geothermal energy to meet the UK's heating needs for the next century.

Through the BritGeothermal Research Partnership, researchers at Durham University are now working on this proposition. Currently, the vast majority of UK homes are heated by gas, which is both a carbon emitter and a potentially insecure resource given that more than 50 per cent of the gas used to generate heat is imported. A mine energy system would work by extracting the tepid water in abandoned mines and passing it through a heat exchanger at the surface. The exchanger would transfer the heat from the water to another fluid, such as brine or anti-freeze, which would then circulate through individual homes. Meanwhile, the original water would return back underground to be reheated.

Dr Charlotte Adams, an assistant professor at Durham University, explains that mine energy systems could significantly decrease the UK's carbon emissions. While the process isn't carbon neutral - the water in most mines isn't hot enough to use directly and so a heat pump, powered by electricity, would be required to boost the temperature - Adams adds that for every kilowatt of electricity used to run the pump, around four kilowatts of heat would be produced. …

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