Tapping old mines for heat may create new energy source

Research is underway to determine whether mines can be used to produce energy in Sudbury.

Energy-producers around the world inspire northern Ontario researchers

If successful, electricity could be extracted from the warm pools of water inside the mines to generate electricity.

A bio-engineering professor at Laurentian University has conducted several feasibility studies on producing energy from abandoned mines and said this technology is already being used globally.

"There are about 10 installations around the world," Ashley Scott said.

"Most of them are using abandoned coal mines, particularly in Europe."

Scott noted the Canadian example is in Nova Scotia, where an abandoned coal mine is being used to provide heating for local businesses.

He said he would like to see this happen in places like Sudbury.

The CEO with Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT) in Sudbury agreed and added research needs to include mines that are still operational.

"The operating ones are the ones with the high utility bills, so if you can take the warm water that they have to pump out anyways for operations and run it through this system, everyone would take a peek at that," Don Duval said.

"I think it would be absolutely groundbreaking."

‘Market opportunity beyond Ontario’

Duval said companies from across the province have set up shop at NORCAT to research energy opportunities by using mines in Sudbury.

He said many are chasing what could become a major marking opportunity.

"If we can just prime the pump and get them going to prove out the model, then we see a whole new market opportunity that is beyond Ontario."

Scott added interest in the Sudbury region will continue to ramp up since a portion of Stobie mine is scheduled to close in the upcoming year.

Timing is critical, as a recent feasibility study in Bruce Mines pointed out. The municipality there wants to use the heat from pools of water in the mines to produce enough energy to run a greenhouse for exotic vegetables.

However Scott said the mines in that area have been closed for so long that they would be difficult to reopen for effective use.

"The last one was [open] perhaps before or during the Second World War, so we've had 50, 60 years of collapsing tunnels," he said.

"The mine shafts are being capped off for safety reasons, there's a lot of retrofitting that would have to go on."

Nevertheless Plummer Township councillor Peter Spik said the community is still pursuing the possibility of geothermal energy.

"If we find the right private sector partner, I think this could happen very quickly," Spik said.

"If we are unable to get that private sector partner, it's going to be a very, very slow and long process."

Spik noted the project would cost about $5 million to start.