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Flooded, disused coal mines could change how our homes are heated


LONDON — The ramifications of The Industrial Revolution, which had its roots in 18thThese were the heights of twentieth-century Britain.

Britain’s abundance of coal — as well as the ease with which it could be accessed — was a crucial ingredient in this historical turning point, powering the steam engines which helped drive society’s transformation.

However, things have improved. However, the number of coal mines in operation has dropped dramatically. Last June authorities declared that Britain would cease using coal as a source of electricity starting October 2024. That is one year earlier than originally planned.

Even though many mines in Britain have shut down, the centuries-old stories of these sites are not over. Work is currently underway in Scotland to see if the water from old mines that have been abandoned can be used for heating buildings with decarbonized heat.    

The British Geological Survey runs the Glasgow Geoenergy Observatory which conducts this type of research. Twelve boreholes were drilled. The majority of them were in Rutherglen (a southeasterly suburb of Glasgow).

The project’s architects claim that Rutherglen and Glasgow were the home of some of Scotland’s busiest coal mining operations. Natural floods filled the mines with about 12 degree Celsius water after their closure.

This is a photo of one the Glasgow Observatory’s locations in Scotland. The project involved drilling 12 boreholes.

CNBC spoke with Mike Stephenson who, until recently, was the British Geological Survey’s executive chief scientist for carbonization. He said that the project focused on “doing research about the heat in coalmines, and, to a certain extent, whether it is possible to store heat in older coal mines.”

Stephenson explained that their team had arrived at the place where they are working. “experimenting with … how fast water flows amongst these mines, how warm the water is, how … fast, if you take warm water out, does the water replenish — so how fast does the warmth come back.”

He stated that it was a site for research and not demonstration. The research was done “to understand the limitations of the heat and how much it is.”

“All of those things will consist of a series scientific equations, models and findings,” he said. This information would offer valuable data to local authorities and companies interested in the idea.

They will be able to determine where they want to go, how close to each other you drill holes, how deep, and what design to use to maximize efficiency.

In the 12 months since its inception, the project has seen significant progress. It was revealed that 10 boreholes had been drilled and pumping tests were complete.

According to Alan MacDonald (a British Geological Survey hydrogeologist), “The most recent data shows that the boreholes at Glasgow Observatory are well connected to the flooded mining workings.”

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The temperature of mine water at 50-90 meters below Glasgow ranges between 11 to 13 degrees Celsius. MacDonald noted that Scottish groundwater averages 10 degrees Celsius.

There are many potential uses

According to the Coal Authority of Britain, 25% (25%) of U.K. residential properties are situated on coalfields. Underground, flooded mining, such as those being studied in Glasgow, has the potential to provide heating.

The Coal Authority cites its own calculations to show that the mines’ “constantly replenishing water could be large enough to meet all heating needs in the area.” This could be used in manufacturing or horticulture.

It notes that the water from these mines can be a low-carbon, renewable heat source which, under the right conditions, could compete with gas prices in public supply and provide carbon savings of up to 75%, compared to heating gas.

Although many governments want to reduce their dependence on coal, there are still many places where it plays an important role. The International Energy Agency estimates that coal accounts for around one third of all electricity generated worldwide.

The Paris-based organisation said last December coal-fired power generation was due to hit an all-time high in 2021.The IEA stated that coal production is “precast to hit an all-time peak in 2022, and then plateau as the demand flattens.”

Although coal was essential to industrialization, and it remains an important source for electricity, its impact on the environment is significant.

U.S. Energy Information Administration provides a listing of the emissions from coal combustion. This includes carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide as well as particulates, nitrogen oxides, and other gases.

Greenpeace, a non-governmental organization, has called coal “the dirtiest and most polluting means of producing energy.”

South Tyneside Council is working in northeast England on a project to restore part of its mining heritage.

According to the council, the £7.7 million ($10.4 million) Hebburn Minewater Project will “draw geothermal energy from abandoned flooded mines in the former Hebburn Colliery.”

This initiative will heat several council buildings by using water mined from an old colliery that was opened in late 182.ThCentury and was shut down in 1932.

Two boreholes will be drilled as part of the project. The water source heat pumps will heat the mine water, and then it will be reduced to a much higher temperature. A new network of pipes is used to distribute the heat after it has been funneled towards an energy centre.

Together with Durham University, Durham Coal Authority and Durham Council, this project is being worked on. In October last year, testing revealed the mine water had a higher temperature than previously thought.

A new lease on life

It isn’t uncommon for the U.K. to attempt to utilize the warm waters from flooded mines. A facility that was described by the European Commission in 2008 as being the first world mine water power plant opened in the Netherlands. Another similar project was developed using Asturias mine water for heating buildings, in northern Spain.

Ernest Gibson, South Tyneside’s councilor, talked to CNBC about South Tyneside’s long-standing relationship with climate change and his plans for the future.

“The area’s economic situation declined [as]Gibson, an ex-miner, stated that the coal mines would close soon.

He described how closing down a colliery would affect not only the mine industry, but other industries like steel, transport, and smaller operations such as local shops, the “ragman”, which is a term that refers to a person who buys, sells and collects antique items.

Gibson told CNBC that he was proud of the use of old coal mines again.

His words later took on a philosophical tone. “It’s like life — everything changes, nothing stands still. It’s all for the good.