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Trial to heat homes with waste supercomputer heat

A trial is taking place in Edinburgh to explore the viability of storing waste heat from a large computing facility  in disused mines and using it to heat homes.

Conveniently, the University of Edinburgh have just such a supercomputer and it is thought that the energy it uses could be recycled to heat around 5,000 homes in the area.

The £2.6 million trial will examine how the water in old mine workings near the university could be harnessed to heat people’s homes.

The process of cooling the supercomputers would be augmented to transfer the captured heat into the mine water – up to a maximum temperature of 40°C – which would then be transported by natural ground water flow in the mine workings, and made available to warm people’s homes via heat pump technology.

Professor Christopher McDermott, lead academic on the Edinburgh Geobattery project School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh said: ‘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. 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 Advanced Computing Facility – which is used for national climate modelling and health data modelling – currently releases up to 70GWh of excess heat per year, a figure that is expected to rise to 272GWh once the UK Government’s recently announced next-generation Exascale supercomputer is installed on the site.

Amazingly, a quarter of UK homes sit above former mines, meaning there are potentially seven million homes which could have their heating needs met this way.

If successful, the study could provide a global blueprint for converting abandoned flooded coal, shale and mineral mine networks into underground heat storage.

The Edinburgh Geobattery project – led by Edinburgh-based geothermal company TownRock Energy – is being spearheaded by industry and academic partners from Scotland, the US and Ireland.

The University of Edinburgh is the lead research partner on the project and is providing £500k of funding as part of its own net zero objectives.

Scottish Enterprise has awarded a £1 million grant to the project through a joint call launched by the Horizon 2020 funded Smart Energy Systems (JPP SES) and Geothermica – two networks that have co-funded projects developing innovative heat and cooling solutions.

A further US $1 million from the US Department of Energy will fund researchers from the Idaho National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

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

Edinburgh Innovations, the University of Edinburgh’s commercialisation service, will help make the research findings an investable proposition and support further funding applications.

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