Abandoned underground mines — typically viewed as a safety risk and environmental scourge — could be given a new life heating homes in nearby communities.
Heat naturally emits from the surrounding rock in underground mines. Researchers at McGill University in Canada are looking in the potential of capturing that heat and using it as a geothermal energy source for homes, according to information provided by the American Institute of Physics via Newswise. They estimate up to one million Canadians could take advantage of so-called mine geothermal energy.
Abandoned mines might not be the kind of disruptive innovation that will forever change how the world stays warm. But it could be beneficial to communities, especially densely populated areas, located near otherwise useless abandoned mines.
The researchers calculated that each kilometer of a typical deep underground mine could produce 150 kilowatts of heat, enough to warm five to 10 Canadian households during off-peak times.
Tapping geothermal energy in abandoned mines isn’t totally new. A number of communities in Canada and Europe already use geothermal energy from closed mines. This research team is aiming to bring the unconventional heat source mainstream by developing a general model that could be used by engineers to predict the geothermal energy potential of other underground mines. The team outlined its findings in a paper accepted for publication in theAmerican Institute of Physics’ Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy.
Researchers analyzed the heat flow through mine tunnels flooded with water. The hot water could be pumped to the surface, the heat extracted and the cool water returned to the ground. To sustain the geothermal energy system, heat cannot be removed faster than it can be replenished by the surrounding rock.
Photo: Flickr user Esprit de sel, CC 2.0