• Disused coal mine use for geothermal heating gaining traction

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

The BBC has reported on how former coal mines in the UK are being used for heating – from geothermal energy. While the mines formed the “beating heart” of the industrial revolution in the kingdom, few are operating today, and over the last decade or so there has been a shift to extract the heat from the remnants of the seams by sinking boreholes into them (as they have been flooded with water). The organisation responsible for looking after disused mines, the UK Coal Authority, has plans to tap into the energy on a wide scale, after estimating that around one-quarter of British homes currently sit on a coalfield, including nine out of 10 of the largest urban centres. With natural gas being the source of 70% of domestic heating, geothermal energy could help Britain reduce its greenhouse gas emissions considerably, and 70 mine water heating projects are currently being studied for feasibility. At this early stage, it is estimated that mine water heating (with supplemental electrical heat pumping) is around 10% cheaper than heating with gas. There are precedents. A scheme has been in place in the former coal-mining area of Heerlen in the Netherlands since 2008, serving the district heating system, and another scheme has been operating in Springhill, Nova Scotia, Canada, for longer, while a scheme in the Asturias region of Spain began after the closure of the last coal mine in 2018.  High capital costs and some technical challenges may inhibit wider uptake of mine water heating schemes in other former coal areas, but it does appear to have promising potential.