Liabilities to assets: Developing the geothermal potential of flooded coal mine workings

Liabilities to assets: Developing the geothermal potential of flooded coal mine workings

Supervisors: Dr Neil Burnside, School of Engineering (; Professor Adrian Boyce, SUERC (; Dr Christian Schröder, University of Stirling (; Andrew Gunning, RSKW Ltd (CASE Partner) (

Description: Abandoned flooded mines are present over vast areas of the UK and typically represent high-level environmental and financial liabilities. However, these remnants of our carbon-intensive industrial past also provide an exciting opportunity to develop sustainable low-carbon energy resources through geothermal energy production and thermal energy storage. You will help develop innovative strategies for evaluating the geothermal potential of flooded mine workings.


Thermal energy efficiency and sustainability is a major challenge, particularly for countries such as Scotland where heating represents nearly two thirds of overall energy demand. There is great potential for mine-water sourced heating across Scotland, but a major barrier to uptake is the comparative cost and maintenance in relation to gas networks. A potentially more attractive option for utilisation of flooded mine workings is thermal energy storage, via capture and storage of ‘waste heat’ from industrial processes or energy generation during summer months for reuse during high demand winter months.

Your project will use the University of Glasgow (UoG) as its major case study. The UoG has a campus wide Combined Heat and Power (CHP) district heating scheme which makes a significant contribution to the UoG’s carbon footprint reduction target (20% per year). Efforts are underway to achieve further carbon emission reductions for the current scheme and to ensure low-carbon energy for a £1 billion plus campus expansion.

A major challenge for heat storage is the capacity required to store enough useable heat for a long enough duration. Due to the warm embrace of the surrounding geology, the flooded mine workings insulate groundwater from seasonal variations in surface temperature. Add to that the enormous volumes of water involved (several million m3), and these flooded mine workings represent a fantastic opportunity for inter-seasonal thermal energy storage if their hydrological nature can be robustly characterised (i.e. static, dynamic or multicomponent).


You will determine and quantify the feasibility of storing excess summer thermal energy within the UoG mine workings for re-use in the high demand winter months. Much research is required to determine the full extent of the mine workings beneath the campus, but records and recent ground investigations suggest a significant volume of groundwater is present within the mine voids. The major objectives are:

  • Characterisation of the hydrogeological system and extent of mine workings
  • Geotechnical feasibility assessment of the suitability of the mine workings for thermal energy storage
  • Assessment of different thermal storage and heat exchange strategies
  • Predictive modelling of system in response to thermal energy storage scenarios
  • Assessment of potential environmental impacts

To complete this project, you will receive training in applied hydrogeology, thermal process engineering, geochemistry, mineralogy and ground penetrating investigation techniques. You will undertake state-of-the-art research at Glasgow, SUERC and Stirling, with their internationally leading geotechnical, geochemical and mineralogical facilities, and in close partnership with our industrial CASE partner, RSKW Ltd. You will thus be able to develop exciting new, and highly transferrable research and business skills. You will be based at the University of Glasgow, which will also be your main field area. You will also spend periods at SUERC and Stirling, advancing analytical techniques for the hydrogeochemical and mineralogical characterisation of mine waters and precipitates, and on placement with RSKW to work on related projects and develop business cases for geothermal developments.  


In practice, you will advance our understanding of the flooded coal mine system beneath the University of Glasgow and assess its geothermal potential for the existing campus and new campus developments. This will be achieved through:

  • Extensive review of historic mining archives, ground investigations and energy assessments;
  • Characterisation of baseline hydrological and geological conditions including; groundwater chemistry, flow and compartmentalisation, and mine void volume, connectivity and geometry; 
  • Build on established hydrogeochemical and ground investigation techniques to develop a state-of-the-art analytical program for geothermal assessment of flooded mine workings
  • Map and match surface thermal energy demands with optimal zones for subsurface heat extraction and thermal energy storage.
  • Completing thorough geochemical characterisation of mine related ochre deposits to determine the oxidation state of the water and provide recommendations for engineering infrastructure strategy
  • Assess optimal geoengineering strategies for geothermal energy generation and thermal energy storage.

Funding notes: Funding is available to cover tuition fees for UK/EU applicants for 3.5 years, as well as paying a stipend at the Research Council rate (estimated £14,553 for Session 2017-18).

How to Apply: Please refer to the following website for details on how to apply:

Deadline: 19 January 2018

Start Date: 1 October 2018