Innovative Energy Ideas from Scotland

Innovative Energy Ideas from Scotland

The British Geological Society are funding a new project looking into the possibility of benefitting from the vast reservoir of warm water that fills a web of disused mines underneath Glasgow. The naturally heated water that currently populates these mines would be used to heat homes and businesses in the city and if successful the same model could be used in other towns and cities with a similar underground structure.

The project – which will initially cost £9million will involve the drilling of boreholes to test the water temperature and other aspects relating to the project from which the long-term feasibility of it will be assessed.

Professor Michael Stephenson, the director of science at the British Geological Survey (BGS) said “The rocks below Glasgow are crisscrossed with tunnels that were hewed into the rock by coalminers in the 19th and 20th century. Eastern Glasgow was once the location of some of Scotland’s busiest mines. These old, long-abandoned tunnels should now be allowing water to flow freely beneath the city.”

“At present it is very hard to store energy and that is a problem when using renewable power plants – such as wind plants – which operate intermittently. Our second borehole array, again crammed with instruments, would allow us to test the feasibility of storing water – heated by renewable power plants – and then releasing that energy later when it is needed.”

The UK is on target to decarbonise electricity generation because of the growing numbers of renewable power plants. However, the nation is still heavily reliant on North Sea and imported natural gas to heat its homes. Combustion of these fossil fuels forms a substantial part of the carbon dioxide emissions which the UK has pledged to reduce to help limit global warming.

Professor Stephenson continued “One solution would be to use the energy beneath our feet. The temperature of the water that is sloshing through the old mines and in the rock layers under Glasgow is about 12C. That is not red hot, obviously. However, there is a great deal of water down there and by using heat exchangers we can turn that mass of lukewarm water into a moderate supply of very hot water which could be pumped into homes to provide hot water and heating in winter. At least that is the idea.

“Our underground observatory will determine whether it is feasible or not. It will analyse rates of replenishment, acidity, temperature and many other features. Based on that data we will know if we are on to a winner.”

Also, in Scotland scientists at Heriot-Watt University are tackling the challenge of producing hydrogen from sunlight which has a critical role to play in the UK’s energy future, with demand set to reach up to 860 terawatts (TWh) per year by 2050. Currently, the UK can only produce around 27 TWh of hydrogen power per year.

Dr Jin Xuan, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and associate director of the Research Centre for Carbon Solutions at Heriot-Watt University has been working with colleagues from Yale, the City University of Hong Kong and ​the ​East China University of Science and Technology. They are developing a new system to produce hydrogen from solar energy using a technique known as photoelectrochemical (PEC) water splitting. The technique uses solar energy to split the hydrogen and oxygen in water and collect the hydrogen as a renewable energy source.

The innovative microsystem generates unique microfluidic patterns to accommodate the pH differential, and acid and alkaline electrolytes can coexist in a single cell.

The new system will reduce the cost of PEC water splitting by around two thirds and increase the solar to fuel efficiency by up to 20 percent.

Dr Xuan said: “This project offers the chance to make PEC water splitting a viable route for hydrogen production.

“The main barrier to solar hydrogen production in the UK, and globally, is its high cost – it costs twice as much to produce as energy from wind and biomass.

“Our system will use cheap, widely available materials that mean the technology can be easily scaled up to meet the growing demand for hydrogen fuel.

“We have already proved that this system has potential. We’ve applied a similar design strategy in a number of energy devices, such as fuel cells and batteries.”

Hannah Smith, senior policy manager at Scottish Renewables, said: “Innovative projects like these show just how versatile our renewable energy resources can be. Renewable-fuelled green hydrogen can be used to store and transport electricity, to heat our homes and to fuel vehicles, making it a useful tool as we work to decarbonise our energy system.

“At this time of fundamental change in our energy sector, innovation becomes even more important. Continued support for research and development is critical if these technologies are to reach commercialisation and deliver real impact across our energy system.”

Innovate projects such as the heated water and hydrogen release are what will be the defining factor in meeting our carbon emission targets. Numerous smaller scale projects such as these will mount up giving us a real opportunity to meet our overall targets. Large scale wind projects should continue to be developed and will make a huge difference, but it is the addition of these other smaller scale projects that will tip the balance.

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