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Regional Public Lecture: Can Abandoned Mines Heat our Future?

25 September 2018
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Event type:
Evening meeting, Lecture
Organised by:
2018 Year of Resources, Geological Society Events
North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers
Event status:

A regional lecture in the Public Lecture series. 

The UK faces an energy crisis, around half of the energy it consumes is used for heat and most of this is produced using natural gas. The UK has been a net importer of gas for over a decade, and we have limited gas storage meaning that at times of high demand we risk a supply shortage. There exists an opportunity to develop our deep mining heritage to once again provide a source of energy. Over the past century, 15 billion tons of coal were extracted from UK coalfields but output has reduced to virtually zero today. Our declining coal industry means that as deep mines were abandoned, water pumps were turned off and the worked areas flooded with water which now lies at temperatures of around 12 to 20°C.

Spread the previously mined coal over the entire UK land surface and there would be a layer of coal around 5 cm deep. The extracted coal has left void space underground, and allowing for subsidence, we estimate that there are around 2 billion cubic metres of water within flooded, abandoned coal mines. Using heat pumps, we can upgrade the temperature of this water to provide useful temperatures for space heating. The beauty of this concept is that because many villages, towns and cities were developed due to the coal deposits beneath them, there is good correlation between areas of heat demand and abandoned coalfields. It is estimated that the resource potential of the UK could provide heat for around 700 000 homes.

This potential aligns well with the UK Government’s 5th Carbon Budget and plans for the decarbonisation of heat that include one in twenty homes being connected to a district heat network by 2030. At current build and connection rates, this will be a challenging target to meet. The Coal Authority maintain the liability for the UK abandoned mines and currently pump water from several coalfields to protect aquifers and prevent emergence at unwanted locations. They estimate that the water pumped for operational reasons contains around 80MW of heat, which is currently unused. The use of abandoned mines as a source of heating and cooling has been proven at smaller scale in the UK and at district scale in the Netherlands, Germany and Canada. In its flooded mining infrastructure, the UK has a readily developed resource that could be used to provide heating and cooling but also has great potential for heat storage and offers one route to decarbonising future heat supply.


Charlotte Adams, Durham University 

Charlotte Adams is an Assistant Professor at Durham University. She trained as a hydrogeologist specialising in minewater treatment and her PhD (Newcastle University 1999) focused upon the removal of zinc from metal mine drainage. Charlotte subsequently worked for five years in the renewable energy industry and has undertaken multidisciplinary academic research on sustainable energy and water systems since joining Durham University in 2009. Working with abandoned mines gave Charlotte a thorough understanding of the huge geothermal potential of these and other resources in the UK and she now manages the BritGeothermal research partnership which is a research collaboration between the universities of Newcastle, Glasgow, Durham and the British Geological Survey. This partnership was established to promote the UK's geothermal resources as a secure source of low carbon heat and also led drilling of the 3 most recent deep geothermal wells in the UK. Currently, Charlotte is leading work at Durham on the potential of abandoned mines to provide energy storage and a low carbon source of heat and cooling for the UK. She is also a Fellow of the Durham Energy Institute and a member of the University’s Carbon Management Team.


17.30 Tea and coffee served

18.00 Lecture begins

18.45 Questions and answers

19.00 Drinks Reception

20.00 Close

Registrations open on Eventbrite 

All past lectures can be viewed online on our Past Meeting Resources Page.

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