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4. Appendix A: Background to the Minewater Project

(Extracted from July 2006)


Climate change
Burning fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) has brought prosperity and comfort to people across the globe. But today we know that burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The build-up of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere is changing the climate of the whole planet - with potentially devastating consequences. For example, scientists have predicted that the countries of Northern Europe are likely to face hotter summer temperatures, much stormier winters, flooding of low-lying areas, and loss of land caused by rising sea levels.

The need for innovation
Many national governments now agree that climate change is one of the most important threats facing the planet, and they are taking steps to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. As well as encouraging people to cut down on energy usage, governments and their agents are looking for innovative and 'green' ways to generate the heat and power we rely on. Using mine water is one such innovation.

Regeneration of old mining communities
For centuries the people of Europe have relied on coal as a source of energy and of economic prosperity. But since the 1970s, we have all become more reliant on gas and oil for energy, and economic forces have led to wide-spread mine closures. This has badly affected the lives of people who relied on the coal-mining industry. Formerly strong mining communities have struggled to survive; and this has had an effect on other local jobs and services. In addition, local environments have suffered from neglect, resulting in pollution and safety problems.

The Minewater Project
In the towns of Heerlen (Netherlands) and Dalkeith (Scotland), mining was the largest employer and it was the main reason for the growth of both towns. Although the mines are now closed, research suggests that they can once again be the source of useful energy. The Minewater Project aims to use the water in disused mines as a source of renewable energy that will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The plan is to extract the warm water that is flooding the old mine workings and circulate it to homes and work-places through a district heating system.  This is done by means of a district heat network.
Mine water has already been used on a small scale for heating, but this has generally involved single buildings and a fairly small heat pump. In the proposed pilot projects the scale is larger, using a large heat pump. Instead of heating just one building, the system will supply heat for a district heating system. In this way the heat is supplied to a large number of buildings.

The Minewater Project will be a major contribution to the regeneration of the two former collieries, and the lessons learnt here will carry forward to other mining areas across Europe.  The Project began work in March 2005, and it will run until June 2008.

The benefits of using mine water
  • Buildings that use mine water energy will need much smaller amounts of fossil fuels to meet their energy needs
  • Emissions of greenhouse gases are reduced
  • It is a local source of energy, so it can be delivered to local buildings very efficiently
  • Transmission losses are reduced (i.e. most of the energy reaches the point of use)
  • Using local resources means that new jobs will be created
  • Better employment opportunities have a positive effect on people's lives and their environment
  • Mine water is pumped, cleaned and released elsewhere
  • Risk of flooding - and the pollution that this causes when mines close - is reduced
  • Redevelopment of industrial areas as part of an overall regeneration strategy
  • Sustainable regeneration of places and communities


The Minewater Project is supported by a grant from the European Union. There are five project partners and numerous European observers who are contributing their expertise and knowledge. Most important of all, the people of the mining communities are being encouraged to be involved in the process, through local meetings, workshops, events, publications, and this website.

Primary objective
The Minewater Project, based in Heerlen (The Netherlands) and Midlothian (Scotland), aims to reduce the ecological footprint of these ex-mining communities by demonstrating that it is economically viable and environmentally sound to extract geothermal energy from the water in former and closed mines on a large scale such that it can be used for district heating and cooling of residential and commercial areas.

Secondary objectives
It also aims: 
  • To build new urban areas within old mining communities to improve spatial planning, environmental effects, and economic performance of the area.
  • For an environmental solution in place of an environmental problem
  • the dissemination of information about this new renewable energy resource for replication throughout North-Western and Eastern Europe.


Geothermal energy
Rocks deep below ground-level store heat, and stay at a fairly constant temperature. This heat is called 'geothermal energy'. Water that has flooded disused mines is warmed by the heat of the rocks. The idea of using geothermal energy is not new - the Romans used hot springs for heating.

Heat pumps
Heat pumps are already used in many buildings around the world. Basically, the heat pump is the reverse of a domestic refrigerator. In a refrigerator heat is pumped from the inside (where the food is stored) and released at the back. In so-called 'ground source' heat pumps, pipes are laid in the ground below or close to a building, and are then able to collect much more heat than is contained inside a refrigerator. Enough heat can be pumped from the ground to heat the building.

Heat pumps like this can also pump heat from a body of water such as a lake, a river ... or a flooded mine. The mine water has the additional advantage of being warmer to start with. Heat pumps typically generate three times as much energy as you put in - using the warm minewater increases this still further.

The newness of the two proposed Minewater schemes mean that there are many technical issues that need to be addressed. There are some fascinating facts to be discovered: how much energy is there and how can it be used? How easy will it be to integrate the mine water with existing energy efficient technologies like combined heat and power (CHP) and heat pumps?  The schemes also raise some tricky questions like who owns the mine water? Who can give permission for the project to proceed? How can the threat of pollution be addressed? What environmental responsibilities may have to be taken on?


The Minewater project is focused around two former coal mines that will once again be used as a source of energy. The mines are located at Heerlen, in The Netherlands in Midlothian, Scotland.

The communities in Heerlen and Midlothian, like many mining communities, experienced severe economic and social deprivation when the mines closed. They had shared an economic dependence on the mines and a very strong associated social and cultural structure.

The difference is that the available energy will now be used locally for the benefit of the immediate communities. So the project is a potent symbol of regeneration, using the same mines as a local solution for sustainable energy systems. Mines that once powered the industrial revolution can now be focal points for a post-industrial renewable energy-based society.

There are many mining communities across Europe that will be watching the progress of these two schemes. They too could develop similar systems.

The scheme in Heerlen will be located at two areas of redevelopment in the town at Heerlerheide Centrum and Stadpark Oranje Nassau. These sites are 3.5 km apart situated to the north of the town and in the centre of the town, respectively. The two sites will be part of one system that will be able to both heat and cool buildings! Both the sites will involve drilling into the mines because they have been filled in since mine closure - in this respect they differ from the Monktonhall mine in Midlothian, Scotland (see below).
The new developments will revitalise the areas they are in, comprising a mixture of new housing with public and commercial buildings. Those moving in will be joining a community of the future!

The first drilling at Heelerheide commenced in May 2006. Two wells are being drilled to a depth of 825 metres. Nearly a kilometre beneath the town water can be found at about 35°C, like a warm bath. This task will not be easy and is likely to require 350 hours of continuous drilling!

The scheme in Midlothian will be sited in and developed as part of a completely new community called Shawfair. The intention is that if the pilot scheme proves successful, the whole of Shawfair, comprising several thousand dwellings and many commercial and public buildings, will eventually be supplied by the new minewater heating system.

Once legal issues have been fully addressed in Midlothian, and the business case has been fully approved to proceed, the water emerging from the Monktonhall mine will be used.  This water can be used directly because the mine was never filled in. In fact water is already being pumped from the Monktonhall mine to prevent flooding and associated environmental pollution.

This water in this mine has a temperature of approximately 13°C. Of course this is not warm enough to heat the buildings directly as at Heerlen, but it is warm enough to supply the first phase of the Shawfair development. The water will supply a system designed specially for this development. If it is successful, not only can it be extended to supply other areas of Shawfair as they are built, but it could also be copied at other similar mines across Europe.

The system designed for Shawfair includes two items of energy efficient technology as well as the warm minewater: a heat pump and a combined heat and power engine.

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