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Disused coal mines have untapped potential for low cost green energy

A new project is set to explore how water in abandoned coal mines could provide a low cost environmentally-friendly energy source, addressing the issue of low carbon heating and cooling, one of the key energy challenges for the UK.

Nottingham Trent University and Nottinghamshire based company, Alkane Energy, will investigate how energy could be harnessed from disused flooded coal mines to provide a renewable heat source that can help society and industry by reducing carbon emissions.

Dr Amin Al-Habaibeh, lead academic from the university’s School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment and supervisor on the project, said: “Water in abandoned coal mines has, in general, a well regulated temperature. The extraction of water from disused mine workings and exploitation of its latent energy for heating and cooling applications, through heat exchangers and heat pump technologies, could provide a significant level of energy. With an estimated 1 billion cubic metres of flooded void space underground in the UK across many urban and industrialised areas the potential for this project is huge.”

The relatively high and consistent temperature of mine water makes it ideal for both heating and cooling purposes and potentially suits the ‘retro-fit’ market, for which solutions are currently scarce.

Keith Parker, project director at Alkane Energy, commented: “Alkane Energy has secured a number of exclusive Agreements from the Coal Authority to access coal workings for this purpose and Nottingham Trent University will provide the academic and technical support to help the company successfully harness the huge potential offered by this concept. The initial Agreements cover a total area of over 30 sq.km. Recent work by British Geological survey suggests this area of workings may typically deliver 600 GWh per year of renewable heat resource.”

This is the equivalent of heating an estimated 45,000 homes by a more economical and environmental process from an area that is less than half the size of Nottingham. However, unlike other GSHP based energy resources, the energy resource is deep underground and spreads laterally for many kilometres, freeing the surface to be utilised for commercial development or other activities.

“If this potential can be successfully exploited it will represent a significant new business stream to Alkane. Initial modelling suggests up to 40% improvements in energy consumption and emissions should be achievable,” added Keith Parker.

The collaboration was initially established through Nottingham Trent University’s sustainable design project, Future Factory, and has now been extended to a two year investigation through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) funded by the Technology Strategy Board.

Dr. Al-Habaibeh stated: “Nottingham Trent University and Alkane Energy will pool resources, with the university contributing to the development of local industry by sharing expertise from the academic field with the company. In return the work will help to provide live case studies and data for research-informed teaching as well as enhancing the experience and employability of Nottingham Trent University students through the integration of research into the teaching and learning process.”

The KTP project is closely aligned to some of the existing core academic areas in which Nottingham Trent University specialises. Provision of innovative means of low carbon heating and cooling is one of the key challenges facing the built environment: both the Innovative and Sustainable Built Environment Technologies Research Group, led by Dr. Amin Al-Habaibeh, and the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment at Nottingham Trent University are heavily involved in developing techniques to meet challenges such as these.

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