Science masterplan is really hotting up

EXPERTS hope to drill 2,000m below the streets of Tyneside in search of hot rocks to provide green energy.

EXPERTS hope to drill 2,000m below the streets of Tyneside in search of hot rocks to provide green energy.

Scientists from Newcastle University have asked for permission to create boreholes up to 2km deep – 100 times the height of the Angel of the North.

They believe there is geothermal energy in the ground beneath the former Scottish and Newcastle Brewery site which could provide natural central heating for the Science Central development earmarked for the site.

And they want to set up two boreholes to test the temperature and find out whether the method could be used to produce electricity or supplement hot water for buildings planned for the site.

In 2008 researchers’ ears pricked up when maps published by the British Geological Survey revealed Newcastle had geothermal energy potential.

Now they have applied to the city council for planning permission to start the work and planning chief Harvey Emms is recommending councillors give it the green light.

Last month Newcastle University scientists celebrated successfully siphoning water at a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius from 1km below the ground at Eastgate in County Durham.

The water was brought to the surface by a twin borehole system, the first of its kind in the UK.

Using two holes allows the water to be pumped back underground to be warmed up again, in a kind of large-scale heating system.

The idea is for the water to be used to provide renewable heat for homes and businesses, including a hotel and spa, in the Eastgate eco-village due to be built in Weardale. The village is also set to be the only place in the country to use all five forms of land-based renewable energy available in the UK wind, solar, biomass, hydro and geothermal.

The application is to drill two 10cm wide boreholes to a depth of up to 2km over a temporary period of 39 weeks.

An 11m high drill rig would be used and drilling would take place from 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday and from 8am to 5pm on a Saturday.

There are no objections to the plan.

There are plans to house new science businesses, other offices, student accommodation and a green energy research centre on the former brewery site, which was bought by the city council, One North East and Newcastle University, as part of Science Central.

Geothermal energy is seen as a very green type of renewable power, as it does not require the burning of fossil fuels like coal or gas and gives out very little in the way of emissions, except steam.

In a report to go before city planners, council officers say: “It is considered that the principle of a geothermal drill rig drilling to a depth of 2km is acceptable given the nature of neighbouring land uses, the location of the site within the wider former brewery site, the noise mitigation measures proposed and the restricted hours of operation.”

The report recommends approval as long as development starts in three years, operating hours are restricted and noise reduction measures put in place.

But one of the biggest obstacles is the cost of getting the system set up in the first place.

The Eastgate project was given £461,000 by the Government.

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