Nottingham Trent University (NTU) are assisting Alkane Energy in investigating how to efficiently use the energy in disused, flooded coal mines to create a low-cost, renewable energy source.
As global energy consumption continues to rise, exploiting available sources of green energy is one of the major challenges facing our society. The UK Government, as part of its response to pressures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, has set an ambitious target of increasing the percentage of renewable sources used for heat energy up from 1% to 12% by 2020. Finding solutions that provide low carbon heating and cooling is, therefore, one of the key energy challenges for the UK.
Following the low carbon and sustainable cities agendas, researchers at NTU’s School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment are working with Alkane Energy to develop a new way of making use of water in abandoned coal mines. They are investigating how to design a system that most efficiently harnesses the energy from disused, flooded coal mines to provide a low-cost, environmentally-friendly energy source.
There are many components involved in the process of extracting heat from mine water and utilising it efficiently. The key to success will be ensuring that components of the system are integrated in such a way as to extract the maximum heat energy while using as little energy as possible to run the system. This is where designers at NTU are working to design, monitor and redesign how the system works to develop a more reliable, efficient process that generates energy to heat or cool buildings. This will enable them to maximise energy generated using the latent heat stored in the mine water. The UK’s old coal mines contain an estimated one billion cubic metres of flooded space. The development of an efficient and effective system for releasing the heat energy would have huge revenue potential.
The research work began through NTU’s sustainable design project Future Factory and then continued as a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) project, funded by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) in collaboration with Alkane Energy, a Nottinghamshire based renewable energy company. NTU provide the academic and technical support to help Alkane Energy successfully harness the huge potential offered by this project. Alkane Energy are currently running a pilot with a couple of buildings while designers work to optimise the system to achieve a 25% cut in the energy consumption and 18% reduction to carbon emission. They are also exploring the best way to scale up the system as the Coal Authority has given permission to initially explore redundant mines over an area half the size of Nottingham. Recent work by the British Geological Survey suggests this may contain enough energy to heat around 45,000 homes a year. With the potential to be developed more widely this work could enable the UK to meet, or even exceed, targets for renewable energy.