Glasgow geothermal project heats up with first borehole

10 December 2018
The first borehole is being drilled at the UK Geoenergy Observatory for Glasgow, allowing scientists to ‘see’ underground at the world-class geothermal energy research site in the east end of the city. 
Left to right: Vanessa Starcher, drilling site engineer at BGS. Ian Manson, chief executive of Clyde Gateway. Lord Henley, parliamentary under Secretary of State at BEIS. John Ludden, CEO of BGS. Cllr Anna Richardson, Glasgow City Council. Hamish Campbell, drilling site engineer for BAM Ritchies

Left to right: Vanessa Starcher, drilling site engineer at BGS. Ian Manson, chief executive of Clyde Gateway. Lord Henley, parliamentary under Secretary of State at BEIS. John Ludden, CEO of BGS. Cllr Anna Richardson, Glasgow City Council. Hamish Campbell, drilling site engineer for BAM Ritchies

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Marking the beginning of the 15-year research investment, a 7.2m high drilling rig broke ground on the site to form the first borehole for the observatory. Over the next 15 months, the drilling team will create 12 boreholes of various depths, which will enable research into Glasgow’s geology, its underground water systems and the potential for heat from the water in the city’s disused coal mines. 

One of the biggest aims of the project is to find out whether there is a long-term sustainable mine water resource that could provide a low-cost, low-carbon heat source for homes and businesses. 

Measurements will be taken from the boreholes, such as temperature, water movement and water chemistry. Environmental baseline monitoring of near-surface chemistry, gases and waters will also be measured. 

Lord Henley, the undersecretary of state at the UK Government’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) was joined by representatives from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the British Geological Survey (BGS) who are leading the project. 

The observatory is one of two sites proposed in the £31 million UK Geoenergy Observatories investment commissioned by NERC, the UK’s leading funder for environmental sciences, and operated by the BGS, the UK’s principal provider of impartial geological evidence since 1835. Ramboll is supporting the BGS with multidisciplinary services through all phases of the project from planning and environmental assessment, design and construction through to implementation. 

The Glasgow Geothermal Energy Research Field Site will enable the UK science community to study the low temperature mine water geothermal environment just below the Earth’s surface. 

Lord Henley said: “Clean growth and innovation go hand in hand, so as part of our modern Industrial Strategy we’re investing £31 million into projects like this which could transform derelict coal mines into valuable low carbon sources of energy. “Reusing deep mineshafts could help to reinvigorate local economies, creating new high-skilled jobs and boosting supply chains in traditional mining communities."

Tracy Shimmield, co-director of the Lyell Centre, BGS Scotland said: “The British Geological Survey will operate the Glasgow Geothermal Energy Research Field Site, which will enable the UK and countries around the world to better understand how our industrial legacies can be turned into renewable heat sources. “The observatory will tell us how much heat is down there, whether it can be sustainably used and replenished, and if it could power homes, businesses or even entire cities. “This is the first time that this part of the Earth will be monitored closely and consistently, and once again NERC and the BGS are at the forefront of innovation in environmental science.” 

Professor Zoe Shipton, professor of geological engineering at the University of Strathclyde and chair of the UK Geoenergy Observatories science advisory group, said: “More and more of the solutions to decarbonising our energy supply will need to come from beneath our feet. “Ensuring we take forward these solutions in a sustainable way means understanding more about how the system works. “The UK Geoenergy Observatories will build up a high-resolution picture of the underground system, providing a breakthrough in our understanding. This hasn’t been done anywhere else in the world. What we learn in Glasgow will lead the way in understanding how to balance our need for resources, with keeping people safe and protecting our environment.

Cllr Anna Richardson, Glasgow City Council portfolio holder for sustainability and carbon reduction, said: “Innovation and engineering has been at the heart of the Glasgow City Region’s economy for more than 200 years and it remains an important growth area for our communities. Glasgow’s share of this £31m investment in renewable energy technologies underpins the important research being driven forward by our higher education establishments and energy and engineering businesses, keeping Glasgow firmly on the world stage.”

Ian Manson, chief executive of Clyde Gateway said: “We have secured a comprehensive £23m investment programme in renewable energy for the Clyde Gateway, ranging from research into renewables to the installation of a major district heating system fuelled by renewable energy. Over the next few years, Clyde Gateway will become the best location in Scotland for people and businesses who wish to take carbon out of their energy supplies.”

The BGS will make data from the Glasgow observatory available online from 2019. Data is already being collected and interpreted - the core samples taken from the ground during the drilling process will become a key data source for the project.

Project details

Image: Peter Corcoran, with permission of BGS

British Geological Survey - UK Geoenergy Observatories

Ramboll has been appointed by NERC (the UK’s main agency for funding environmental sciences) to provide the British Geological Survey (BGS) with multidisciplinary services as they create a new ‘observatory for the underground’. 

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