By Luke Andrews
Beneath Durham University lies a network of abandoned coal mines. They are filled with water warmed by natural heat. Dr Charlotte Adams, lecturer in the Geography Department, is leading a project aiming to recycle this water to heat colleges.
“In the colleges it could potentially be used to provide heating” she said. Heat produced in the earth’s core radiates outwards, raising the temperature of groundwater. The project hopes to tap this naturally heated resource for colleges.
The first stage is to drill a borehole into the abandoned mines. A pipe with a pump connected at the top will then be lowered down, connecting the hot water to the surface. This is attached to a college’s heating system. The pump will pull warm water out of the ground and send it to a heating tank. Here it is heated to an optimum temperature the college. Then, it is passed through pipes around a college. The water releases heat into the college, warming the building. Warm students equals a happy college.
The used water will then be returned to the ground via another pipe, to be reheated by radiation from the earths core and then, reused by the college.
The scheme is virtually carbon neutral. But, it will use electricity to power the pump. Dr Adams hopes that this will be provided by university-based solar panels.
“It’s a low carbon alternative to gas boilers” says Dr Adams, referring to what colleges currently use as a heating system.
Van Mildert is likely to be the first college to receive this low carbon upgrade, owing to its proximity to the mooted borehole site. Just behind Wear block is open land with mines running beneath. Its the easiest access point to the mines. “We would be delighted to be part of this project and listen to any advice given on renewable energy sources”, said Ian Jackson, Assistant Operations Manager at Van Mildert College.
Support for projects like this is high within the University’s management. A Carbon Management Team was especially created to help direct ideas like these. It’s all part of the push to reach the University’s target of 15% energy used coming from low carbon resources.
Past efforts include the Palatine Centre, or Noah’s Arc, complete with solar panels, a rainwater recycling drainage system and an air powered water pump. The University has taken a ‘life-cycle’ view to low carbon projects. That means the project’s cost overtime is compared to the cost of only using fossil fuels to fulfil the same function over the same time period.
Unfortunately it’s still too early to know if the project will land within budget. “The project is in very early days. It’s a feasibility study at the moment” said Dr Adams. However, she remains confident that her project will get the green light. There is no exact estimate for cost just yet. The figure for drilling boreholes alone though is expected to be “within the 100,000s”. As for the price of the rest of the equipment, this remains unknown. This is definitely a venture to watch.
The idea of using warm water in mines beneath the University will allow it to utilise a local natural resource to ensure the day-to-day running of the University. Van Mildert is likely to be the first college to benefit from such a systen. For now though, it is still just an idea. Once Dr Adams’ has completed her project, we will know if the idea is feasible.