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Waste supercomputer heat to warm homes through old Scotland mines

Written by Thu 1 Feb 2024

A pioneering system in Edinburgh is testing whether waste heat from the University of Edinburgh’s Advanced Computing Facility (ACF) can be repurposed to heat homes by storing it in disused mine workings.

The facility powers the national supercomputer for research in climate and health data modelling.

The supercomputer currently releases up to 70GWh of excess heat per year. This amount is expected to rise to 272 GWh once the UK Government’s recently announced next-generation Exascale supercomputer is installed at the University.

The novel approach could see the excess heat generated by the ACF used to warm at least 5,000 households in Scotland’s capital.

Professor Sir Peter Mathieson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, said: “The University’s own climate and sustainability targets mean that we need to look at a wide range of ways to address the challenges of the climate crisis.”

Turning Mines into Geothermal Energy Sources

The feasibility study, valued at £2.6 million ($3.2 million), will explore the potential of utilising water in old mine workings near the ACF to distribute heat to local homes.

The cooling process for the supercomputers would be adapted to transfer the captured heat into the mine water, which could then be naturally circulated through the mine workings to provide a sustainable heating solution via heat pump technology.

“This project opens up the potential for extracting heat stored in mine water more broadly. Most disused coalmines are flooded with water, making them ideal heat sources for heat pumps,” said Professor Christopher McDermott from the University of Edinburgh.

This groundbreaking initiative, known as the Edinburgh Geobattery project, is led by TownRock Energy and involves collaboration with partners from Scotland, the US, and Ireland.

Professor McDermott highlighted the broader implications: “With more than 800,000 households in Scotland in fuel poverty, bringing energy costs down in a sustainable way is critical, and using waste heat could be a game-changer.”

The University of Edinburgh is the lead research partner on the project and is providing £500,000 ($636,127) of funding as part of its own net zero objectives.

David Townsend, founder of TownRock Energy, emphasised the importance of this research in the journey towards net zero: “Capturing, storing and re-using waste heat is critically important to reaching net zero, and here we are learning and testing how best to do this in the ground, in legacy coal mine infrastructure.”

Scottish Enterprise has also awarded a £1 million ($1.2 million) grant to the project through the Joint Programming Platform Smart Energy Systems (JPP SES) and Geothermica.

Suzanne Sosna, Director of Energy Transition at Scottish Enterprise, said: “I’ll watch with keen interest how gigabytes can turn into clean heat as the Edinburgh Geothermal project progresses.”

University College Dublin, whose researchers are funded by Geothermica and the Geological Survey Ireland, and the University of Strathclyde are also project partners.

If successful, this model could serve as a global blueprint for transforming abandoned mine networks into underground heat storage facilities, potentially benefiting seven million UK households located above former mines.

The project not only aims to address the climate crisis but also to provide direct benefits to people by lowering energy costs and fostering positive change locally and globally.

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Written by Thu 1 Feb 2024

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