North East coal mines help power the green revolution

  • Report by Julia Barthram

In the days when coal was king, the North East powered the nation and drove the industrial revolution.  Those days are long gone and coal is now known as a 'dirty' fuel, a cause of pollution, the pits closed leaving many mining communities without jobs and struggling.

Now the mines are becoming powerful again. They could soon be providing energy and bringing jobs and regeneration back to the North East.

Half of the energy used across the UK is to produce heat, mostly for our buildings and water. That is mostly fuelled by gas boilers which are responsible for 33% of the country's carbon emissions.

Some of that gas powered heating could be replaced with geothermal energy from disused coal mines.

After the pits closed, water flooded in, so deep underground that it is heated by the Earth to between 12 and 20 degrees celsius.

How does it work:

Bore holes are drilled into flooded mine workings. Warm water is extracted from the ground and the heat taken out of it.  The temperature is boosted using a heat pump.  The water from below is used to heat fresh water and that is circulated around a network of buildings. The cooled water is returned to the mine in a different location.

In 2019 the UK Government became the first major economy to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050

The Mine Energy Taskforce says the development of geothermal energy from former collieries has economic benefits as well as environmental. It says if the 42 schemes already identified by the Coal Authority go ahead they would:

25% of homes in the UK are built on coal fields but in the North East that is much higher meaning the region is ideally suited to take advantage of this green energy. One scheme is already operational. A mine water heat pump at a wine warehouse in Gateshead is the only large scale use of the technology in the UK. Other schemes are set to follow:

Gateshead: A council scheme on the Baltic Quarter is due to be operational in Spring 2022. It will be able to provide heat to the equivalent of 5000 homes, including BALTIC and Sage Gateshead.

South Tyneside: Exploratory drilling is underway at the former Hebburn Colliery. If successful, it's expected to be operational by Spring 2023. It will heat council buildings, including a residential tower block, and could save 319 tonnes of carbon emissions a year.

Sunderland: The council is applying for a £2.22 million grant to explore green energy options. If successful, exploratory drilling will be carried out at the former Wearmouth Colliery with view to providing heat for new homes planned at Riverside Sunderland. It is thought the scheme could save upwards of 4,100 tonnes of carbon emissions a year.

County Durham: Mine water from the former Dawdon Colliery is already pumped to the surface by the Coal Authority for environmental reasons. Durham County Council is carrying out feasibility studies for the water to be used to provide a heat network for 1500 homes planned at the Seaham Garden Village development.

Iron ochre is removed from water at the former Dawdon Colliery in Seaham

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