UK Government-funded observatory opens to research water from abandoned mines
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UK Government-funded observatory opens to research water from abandoned mines

By Yoana Cholteeva 07 Dec 2020

The UK’s new underground observatory, dedicated to researching subsurface knowledge, has opened in Glasgow, with the facility team saying that it will contribute to the UK’s ambition to decarbonise its energy supply and achieve net-zero by 2050. 

UK Government-funded observatory opens to research water from abandoned mines
Parts of high resolution optical camera images of core taken from the 199 m borehole in Glasgow. From left to right Around 30 m – Glacial till just above rockhead dominated by granule to small pebble sized mudstone clasts Around 51 m – Very fine grained sandstone with asymmetrical ripples Around 101 m – Sandstone, siltstone and claystone with bioturbation and ironstone nodule. Around 199 m – Sandstone with ripples, over siltstone with parallel lamination. Source: UK Geoenergy Observatory

Data from the Glasgow Geoenergy Observatory will help scientists understand the subsurface better and further research on how heat using warm water from abandoned mines could be used as a renewable energy source for homes and industry.

While the Glasgow Geoenergy Observatory officially opened on Monday during a virtual event, it has been supplying scientists with open access data since drilling began in 2018.

Scientists from around the world can now apply and use the facility from March 2021, in line with Covid-19 restrictions.

British Geological Survey executive director Dr Karen Hanghøj said: “The data from Glasgow’s abandoned mines will help us understand the processes and impacts of a mine water heat source and potential heat store as a sustainable way of heating homes and businesses in our cities.

“Over the next 15 years, the network of boreholes will monitor any changes in the properties of the environment below the surface and help close the knowledge gap we have on mine water heat energy and heat storage. There is no other publicly-funded observatory like this in the world, and it is very fitting that it is located in Glasgow, which will host COP 26 next year.”

The Glasgow Geoenergy Observatory comprises 12 boreholes, which are 16-199m deep and fitted with 319 sensors.

With central Scotland, northern England, and south Wales all experiencing flooding of abandoned mines that could be tapped to supply communities or industries with heat, the new UK Observatory can use its capabilities to provide further information about the subsurface.

Existing issues with the adoption of geothermal energy have so far centred around the uncertainty over resource availability, high initial costs, and long-term investment.

In response to the obstacles, the Geoenergy observatory along with plans for more sites represents a £31m investment by the UK government through the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, commissioned by UK Research and Innovation’s Natural Environment Research Council and delivered by the British Geological Survey.

The Natural Environment Research Council executive chair professor Sir Duncan Wingham said: “The Glasgow Observatory is the first of our UK observatories that will create a high-resolution understanding of the underground system, providing a breakthrough in our knowledge of what lies beneath us.

“Heat from mine water is one form of geothermal energy, and it has great potential to help the UK decarbonise its heat supply and meet net-zero targets.

“This £31m investment is part of the UK’s national capability for world-class science and will give the government, industry, and regulators the knowledge required to understand how our underground might be used to power the future.”

A second Geoenergy observatory is also being planned for a new site in Cheshire, England.