Harnessing the heat beneath our feet to transition to Net Zero Emissions

A Newcastle University led consortium has won significant research funding as part of an £8m EPSRC Programme to Decarbonise Heating and Cooling to support the UK’s goal of achieving Net Zero emissions by 2050.

NetZero Geothermal Research for District Infrastructure Engineering (NetZero GeoRDIE) project, a £1.6m academia/industry consortium will develop Newcastle Helix’s borehole into a state-of-the-art research facility. The 1.6km deep borehole drilled between 2011 and 2014 sits within the heart of the Helix site.

Professor David Manning, Newcastle University, who is leading the consortium explains:

“From the existing borehole we know that the temperature of the rock at 1600m beneath the city of Newcastle is approximately 70°C and this has the potential to be used as a source of heat for our homes, businesses and industry. However, we want to explore a range of technologies to optimise the extraction and exploitation of this renewable heat source as part of the local energy system”.

The generation of heat, used in domestic and industrial settings, accounts for over a third of the UK’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. One way of reducing these GHG emissions is to harness the heat located deep (>1km) in the rocks beneath our feet.

The Newcastle Helix Borehole provides a unique opportunity to investigate these challenges:

  • It will be part of Newcastle Helix Smart Energy Grid to investigate its potential to deliver heat, cooling and energy storage to the 10+ commercial and university buildings on site and up to 450 domestic properties

  • Utilisation of the > 4000 energy system sensors within the site’s smart heat, power and transport energy grid to monitor a range of functions relating to energy generation and demand

  • Complement Newcastle University’s existing energy research at the Helix site, including the EPSRC funded National Centre for Energy Systems Integration (CESI)

  • Tapping into the learnings from Newcastle City Council’s Energy Centre and Heat network – a brand new Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system incorporating a 5km network of underground pipes that supplies heating and cooling on site

This project brings together experts in engineering, geosciences, environmental science and law from across Newcastle University, University of Glasgow and Durham University and will explore the challenges around integrating geothermal heat extraction with the heating and cooling needs of buildings and homes. Experiments will be carried out using the real-world variable heating and cooling requirements of connected buildings.

A key partner in the consortium is Engie UK, who built and operates the Energy Centre and Heat/Cool network on behalf of the City. This leading energy services company focused on three key activities:

  • production and supply of energy
  • services and regeneration
  • providing solutions for a net zero heat and cooling provision

The project also has support from Schlumberger and leading consultancies Geon Energy and Envirocentre, as well as local authorities in the region (Newcastle City Council and South Tyneside Council), to support in the collection of multiple subsurface and on-site environmental measurements to accurately record the impact of the activities.

This project will act as a pilot that could lead to reuse of the many onshore boreholes that exist in the UK. Could these be repurposed for heating, cooling or thermal energy storage? Consortium partner, Environment Agency, will ensure that any developments are of the highest environmental standards to further support the scale up throughout the UK.

Bringing together international, national and local industry partners as well as teaming with the public sector, this project will provide an opportunity for partners to engage on the important role that geothermal energy will provide in the transition to NetZero in the UK, and provide and important demonstration for a national and global scale up.

New research positions associated with this project will be advertised soon. If you would like further information about the project, please contact Rachel Brown, Net Zero GeoRDIE Project Manager rachel.brown@newcastle.ac.uk.

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