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Abandoned coal mines could hold key to heat up Glasgow

FROZEN pavements and icebound roads have been a hazard for many in Scotland this winter – but scientists say the answer could be under our feet.

WARMTH: The water underground stays at a high temperature despite cold weather. Picture: Martin Shields
WARMTH: The water underground stays at a high temperature despite cold weather. Picture: Martin Shields

Researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) have launched a project to find out if water from abandoned coal mines under the city could be used to heat up roads, pavements and homes from below.

The scheme could see Glasgow become the third city in the world to use geothermal energy to bring warmth to the surface for under-street heating.

Glasgow is criss-crossed with abandoned mines that date back to its industrial past, some of them hundreds of years old.

The team will map the maze of disused tunnels which exist beneath the city as they seek to identify underground reservoirs of water which have the potential to provide heat.

The first stage of the work will focus on the Clyde Gateway Regeneration area and will take three years to produce a blueprint of the entire city.

It is estimated almost half of Glasgow's heat, 40%, could be created using water from the flooded shafts, while the city could also copy schemes in Hamburg and Stockholm and use the wellspring of warmth on public footpaths and roads.

Despite frozen temperatures above ground, the water in the mines stays warm all year .

Geotechnical specialist Dr Nicholas Hytiris said once pools are found, ground source heat pumps could be used to begin extracting heat from the water for domestic use.

He said: "We believe this technology will, in the long term, be able to provide cheaper and more sustainable heating, which could be an answer to fuel poverty issues prevalent in many areas of Glasgow."

And the research team believes that the mine water could ultimately transform the environment as the harshest temperatures take hold.

Dr Hytiris said: "After Hamburg and Stockholm, Glasgow could be the third city in the world to have under-street heating. In three years' time we will have a full record of what is going on beneath our feet then we can go on from there."

The British Geological Survey (BGS) has offered full access to its data for the project, including a 3D model of the city.

Much of the mapping will be done by PhD student Emma Church, part-funded by ScottishPower, while Dr Caroline Gallagher, a senior lecturer at GCU and Geographical Information Systems specialist, will assist in an advisory capacity.

Dr Hytiris will be joined by GCU colleague Dr Rohinton Emmanuel, a reader in sustainable design and construction and Mr Bjorn Aaen, a former technical advisor to Glasgow City Council.

Mr Aaen said: "We're confident that utilising this technology properly will lead to a large energy saving for thousands of Glaswegians."

Derek Drummond, sustainable technology manager at ScottishPower, said: "This is an excellent project which could prove to be very beneficial."

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