Research site approved for observing geothermal energy

Materials World magazine
7 Aug 2019

A geoenergy research site in the UK has been approved along with the plan to drill 50 boreholes. Shardell Joseph reports.

Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) have given permission to the British Geological Survey (BGS) to site a UK geoenergy observatory at Ince Marshes. The approval involves drilling 50 boreholes installed with £2.5mln worth of scientific sensors, giving clear observation of the underground environment in high-quality detail. Construction is expected to start in early 2020.

Anticipated to help find geothermal alternatives for the UK’s future energy plan, BGS claims the observatory will be the first in the world to analyse the underground environment to this degree with consistent observation. This is in addition to BGS drilling another 12 boreholes across 4km2 at a site in Glasgow, which will assess warm water, with the UK’s disused mine workings as a geothermal heat source.

The £31mln funding for the project forms part of the government’s 2014 £6bln Science and Innovation Plan. Through UK Research and Innovation, the Natural Environment Research Council will own the UK Geoenergy Observatories (UKGeos), while BGS will deliver the observatories and run the facilities for UK researchers.

Looking for low-carbon energy

According to UKGeos Senior Science User, David Manning, the UK academic community and international collaborators will carry out research in an effort to provide important knowledge needed to move towards a low-carbon economy.

‘It really does feed into the decarbonisation agenda,’ Manning told Materials World. ‘The knowledge that we get from the energy observatories will be absolutely vital, and help us achieve that goal will save our carbon by 2050, as well as understanding a number of phenomena’s underground that relate to other deep engineering activities. So it might be that from this project, we get useful information about deep mining in the UK.’

The boreholes, reaching down to 1,200m in a 12km2 area, will contain 1,800 seismic sensors and are expected to produce millions of terabytes of data on the biological, chemical and physical properties of the surrounding rocks over a time-span of 15 years. About 5km of fibre-optic cable will also be installed to measure earth tremors. Over the project’s timespan, thousands of water samples will be taken between 50-400m below the surface. BGS’s national core scanning facility will analyse the borehole’s rock core.

‘A very wide range of instruments will be installed at both sites, and they will allow real-time observations. They will feed through to the website, so anyone can consult them through their mobile phone or device to look at what’s going on in subsurface,’ said Manning. ‘Anyone who wants to get involved will have easy access to the data generated.’

According to UKGeos, data and information collated from the observatories will be free, open and accessible as and when they become available. Some of the sensor data is expected to be streamed in real-time.