Abandoned Coal Mines Now Providing Winter Heating to Communities in Europe

October 19, 2023 12:25:47

A ground-breaking project in the English town of Gateshead is using abandoned coal mines to provide winter heating to hundreds of businesses and homes. The former coal community has been drawing heat from the warm water filling the labyrinth of old coal mining tunnels for the last six months.

With an estimated one-quarter of homes in the United Kingdom sitting atop networks of coal tunnels, the pilot project shows that using abandoned coal mines for heating could be a feasible option for millions of UK residences. The project provides a means for the UK to leverage coal mines that are otherwise useless while providing homes with much-needed heating amid energy shortages and soaring prices.

John Elroy, the Gateshead Cabinet member for the environment and transport, says that while the town may have a history of dabbling in dirty energy, it is now a leader in clean-energy generation using the very mines used to produce coal.

Around 150,000 abandoned mining shafts and 9,652 square miles of disused tunnels and mines in the UK have become flooded with water after decades of disuse. This water constantly draws heat from the earth and could prove to be one of the UK’s largest sources of underused green energy. An interactive map of disused coal mines from the UK Coal Authority shows that the water becomes more hot the deeper the mines go, reaching up to 45 degrees Celsius at depths of 0.6 miles.

While the water can mix with toxic compounds from subterranean rock and likely isn’t suitable for consumption, it can be a valuable thermal resource for homes and offices. The water is accessed through boreholes that raise it to the surface before being directed and compressed by heat pumps and extractors, which raises the temperatures to much higher levels. Pumps are used to distribute the heated water to buildings via heating networks where the heat is absorbed, and the now-cool water is redirected into the mining system for heating.

The coal authority’s head of heat and byproduct innovation Gareth Farr says flooded coal mines present a chance for the generation of a secure supply of low-carbon heat for people living or employed in buildings constructed on abandoned coalfields. Farr notes that with millions of Britons currently living on disused coal fields, the flooded underground tunnels have significant potential as sources of heat for multitudes of UK residents.

Using the abandoned coal mines for heating could also prove to be an economic boost for communities that were affected by the closure of deep coal mines in the 1980s.

The Gateshead project is an indicator that the places where extractors such as Arch Resources Inc. (NYSE: ARCH) have operations that can eventually be put to good use once coal mining is no longer viable.

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