UK researchers are testing a groundbreaking system to repurpose waste heat from a supercomputing facility, potentially providing warmth to millions of homes.
The system, a first in the UK, aims to store excess heat generated by the University of Edinburgh's Advanced Computing Facility (ACF) in disused mine workings. The ACF, housing the national supercomputer, currently emits up to 70 GWh of waste heat annually, a figure expected to increase to 272 GWh with the installation of the government's forthcoming Exascale supercomputer.
The £2.6 million feasibility study will investigate how to harness the water in old mine workings to heat homes. The cooling process for the supercomputers will be adapted to transfer heat into the mine water, which will then be distributed to households via heat pump technology.
Heating up to 7 million homes
If successful, this study could provide a global blueprint for repurposing abandoned coal, shale, and mineral mine networks into underground heat storage systems. With a quarter of UK homes built over former mines, up to seven million households could benefit from this approach.
The Edinburgh Geobattery project is being led by geothermal company TownRock Energy, in collaboration with industry and academic partners from Scotland, the US, and Ireland. The University of Edinburgh, the project's lead research partner, is contributing £500k in funding towards its net zero goals. The project has also received a £1 million grant from Scottish Enterprise and a $1 million grant from the US Department of Energy.
Lead academic on the project, Professor Christopher McDermott, from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences, 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."