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‘Underground Lab’ to Give Researchers a Glimpse Below the Earth’s Surface

Ross Kelly

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Underground lab

The new site could help improve the development of geothermal energy sources.

An innovative underground laboratory is set to give scientists an unprecedented glimpse below the earth’s surface.

Officially opened on Monday, the UK Geoenergy Observatory is the first of two underground labs set to be built in the UK. A second observatory is planned for a site in Cheshire.

Researchers behind the development of the new facility believe it could help contribute to government plans aimed at decarbonising energy supplies and achieving net zero emissions.

The Glasgow Observatory is comprised of 12 boreholes fitted with 19 state-of-the-art sensors, each of which is between 16 to 199 metres deep.

Data collected by the lab will enable scientists to better understand the subsurface and how heat using warm water from abandoned mines could be used as a renewable energy source for homes and industry.

Abandoned mines across the Central Belt, as well as Northern England and South Wales, could potentially be tapped to supply local communities with heat, researchers believe. However, presently there are serious drawbacks.

A key problem inhibiting the up-take of geothermal energy sources has been the risk involved. Initial high investment costs, as well as uncertainty surrounding available resources, means uptake has been slow.

The UK Geoenergy Observatories hope to address those risks by providing critical information about the subsurface.

Dr Karen Hanghøj, Director of the British Geological Survey, commented: “The Glasgow Observatory builds on the city’s industrial past.

“The data from Glasgow’s abandoned mines will help us understand the processes and impacts of a mine water heat source and potential heat store as a sustainable way of heating homes and businesses in our cities.

“Over the next 15 years, the network of boreholes will monitor any changes in the properties of the environment below the surface, and help close the knowledge gap we have on mine water heat energy and heat storage.”

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Together, the observatories represent a £31 million investment by the UK government through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

They were commissioned by UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI’s) Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and delivered by the British Geological Survey (BGS), which will run the sites and manage their data.

Professor Dame Anne Glover, President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, commented: “It makes sense that the UK’s first geoenery observatory is in Glasgow, given Scotland’s geology is world famous.

“With the government’s target of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, emerging low carbon technologies may offer the best solutions to shaping future energy policy.”

Dame Glover added: “This observatory will be absolutely key for scientists to advance the study of renewable energy and is a great example of how Scotland is leading the way in energy innovation and investigating the viability of alternative energy sources.”

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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