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Transforming a coal mine into a geothermal heat source in the North East of England, UK

Hebburn, South Tyneside, England (source: flickr/ Akuppa John Wigham, creative commons)
Alexander Richter 30 Apr 2020

The mining legacy at Hebburn in England lives on in the creation of a planned ground-breaking renewable energy scheme, deriving geothermal energy from flooded mines at the old coal mines of Hebburn.

Abandoned coal mines in South Tyneside are set to create a ground-breaking renewable energy scheme which will cut annual carbon dioxide emissions by hundreds of tonnes.

The multi-million-pound system will see geothermal energy drawn from flooded mines in the former Hebburn Colliery and used to heat council-owned buildings in the town, including a residential tower block.

The innovative project, which has preliminary approval for GBP 3.5million funding from the European Regional Development Fund, is set to take a major step forward next week as South Tyneside Council’s Cabinet will be asked to approve the appointment of a main scheme designer.

Cllr Joan Atkinson, Lead Member for Area Management and Community Safety, said: “This is a highly innovative scheme, which will be one of the first council mine-water district heating systems in the UK.

“It is expected to deliver a reduction of 319 tonnes of carbon emissions a year, which will make it a key component in our drive to make the council carbon neutral by 2030.

“Cooled water will be returned to the mine workings and locally-generated electricity using solar panels and a Combined Heat and Power Unit will be used to help power it.

“It will also help us meet our obligations to upgrade the energy performance of fuel-poor homes as it will be used to heat one of the town’s residential high-rise blocks.”

The GBP 7 million scheme, which is being developed in collaboration with the Coal Authority and Durham University, will lay the foundations for potential future development and expansion of the network.

The water will be extracted by drilling vertical boreholes 300-400m into flooded coal mines underground. Pilot boreholes will be drilled to establish feasibility and key information which will feed into the main scheme’s design.

An energy centre and pump room are likely to be located close to Hebburn Central, in the town centre. A water source heat pump will extract the heat from the minewater before it is compressed to a much higher temperature and then distributed to the heat network.

The council declared a climate emergency last July and pledged to take all necessary steps to make South Tyneside Council become carbon neutral by 2030. Since then it has developed a climate change strategy with a comprehensive five-year action plan.

Cllr Atkinson added: “This is an exciting project which will make a significant contribution to our ambition for carbon neutrality and a greener, more sustainable borough.

“Subject to Cabinet approval next week, the appointment of a designer will be a significant step forward.”

Hebburn was extensively mined until mine abandonment in 1932.

The Hebburn geothermal project involves South Tyneside CouncilThe Coal Authority and Durham University.

Source: South Tyneside Council