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Geothermal energy from abandoned mine real opportunity according to study in Sussex, New Brunswick

Downtown, Sussex, NB, Canada (source: commons/ wikimedia - CC BY-SA 3.0)
Alexander Richter 7 Oct 2019

With a positive study on utilising the geothermal potential from an abandoned potash mine, the city of Sussex in New Brunswick, Canada is exploring different scenarios of off-takers, including greenhouses, hatcheries and local heating.

The city of Sussex at the Bay of Fundy in the Province of New Brunswick in Canada has been looking into the possibility to utilise geothermal energy by deriving heat from an abandoned potash mine under the city.

Now the city has shared details on an “exhaustive study into the flooded depths of the decommissioned potash mine in Penobsquis has revealed an exciting opportunity to produce geothermal energy for the Sussex area.

It’s been three years in the making, a process necessary to uncover the true viability of developing a lower cost, carbon-friendly heating and cooling source that has the potential to grow a region recovering from the loss of its potash mining activity, says Bill Thompson. Thompson was the economic development officer hired on for two years in 2016 through provincial and federal funding to help community leaders identify new opportunities. It was at a time when the Sussex region was attempting to regain its footing after the harsh news that the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan (PotashCorp) was suspending operations and sending hundreds of high-paid staff and contract workers home.”

“This is great news for the Sussex area,” Thompson said of the report’s recent findings. He continues to support the town through the last legs of the study phase as a volunteer. “I salute the Town of Sussex for continuing this process until all the answers are known even though the project itself is not inside the town,” he said. “This is certainly about the bigger picture.”

In hatching a plan for the future, among the community’s priorities was a comprehensive feasibility study of whether the brine-filled potash mine workings in Penobsquis were capable of turning the region’s bad news story around by becoming a positive resource again.

“Everyone rolled up their sleeves and looked at all our potential and all our strengths as a region,” Sussex’s Chief Administrative Officer Scott Hatcher explained. “Geothermal stood out, and people wanted to know if this was just a pie-in-the-sky type dream or is it really possible to develop a new, large-scale opportunity to help replace what we had lost. Would we really be able to tap the resource of a flooded mine, extract heating and cooling in some fashion and translate that into an economic development opportunity?”

The study concludes the potential is very real, and would take an investment of about $14.4 million. With the savings in heating and cooling costs, it could pay for itself in just under 10 years.

After modelling 20 geothermal scenarios, Vernon Banks, senior hydrogeologist and project manager with Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions, determined an open loop system has the most potential. In that process water would be pumped to the surface, run through heat pumps to generate heating and cooling power, and then return below ground after use. The cost savings would be between 40-60 per cent, Thompson pointed out, which in businesses like hatcheries or those that run greenhouses for everything from cannabis to hot house tomatoes, the savings translates into big money.

Source: Sussex