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Warm water from mines could be used for household heating in the UK

  • Warm water from mines could be used for household heating in the UK
    Mine water treatment schemes such as this one at Dawdon could help heat Britain's homes. Image: The Coal Authority

Abandoned coal mines in the UK could help lower carbon emissions in the near future. A new housing development in County Durham (North East England) will be heated using water from an old mine, reports the BBC.

When underground mines are abandoned, the pumps used to keep the mine tunnels dry are often turned off and the mine fills with water. Geothermal processes warm the water and provide a supply of water at 18 to 20 degrees Celsius. In theory, this source could provide enough heat for one quarter of UK properties that are located on coalfields, according to the Coal Authority.

The plan is for the homes in South Seaham Garden Village ─ a new settlement to be built as part of the UK Government’s 2018-2023 housing strategy ─ to harness the heat from the Earth’s crust as a low carbon, sustainable source of heat. The concept of garden villages involves self-contained communities that include their own facilities such as shops and schools, and green spaces. They are meant to be sustainable and future proofed.

The housing project could potentially be the first large-scale mine energy district heating scheme in the country, helping to meet the UK’s carbon emissions targets. Heating for homes, business and the industry is estimated to generate about 40% of CO2 emissions in the UK.

Kwasi Kwarteng, Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth told BBC reporters: “I think it’s potentially transformational. We have this huge historic legacy in terms of coal, and being able to use that footprint and turn it into a source of green energy – that’s incredibly positive.”

The idea could turn closed mines from a liability into an asset, as selling warm water could cover some of the costs of dealing with unused mine sites. The warm water from mines has to be further warmed using a heat pump, but the Coal Authority said the electricity to run the pumps would come from renewable sources when possible.

There are also some limitations: not all mine sites will be suitable, along with uncertainties related to the geology and hydrology of sites. Also, maintenance issues may arise as the water could contain high concentrations of salt, iron or manganese.

At the moment, plans are underway for 14 heating schemes using mine water in the north, and 7 in the rest of England, along with 5 in Scotland and 4 for Wales. This type of scheme could also be interesting in other countries with cold winters and many coal mines, such as Poland.

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