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Durham University

University and City: Growing together

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Working together to find Durham solutions to global and local challenges

(31 January 2019)

Professor Stuart Corbridge, our Vice-Chancellor (pictured), explores a Durham-led research project which is involving local communities, tackling a major global challenge - and has the potential to have great benefit locally.

Durham University is known across the country, and increasingly the globe, for its world-changing research. Our academics are grappling with some of the major challenges facing society today.

I want to use this column to explore one example where we’re looking at a major and pressing problem: climate change. We’re doing this together with County Durham residents and it could bring real benefits for communities here in Durham.

In recent weeks, experts from our Durham Energy Institute (DEI) have taken part in national and international events exploring new, low-carbon forms of energy. Some of you may have seen the DEI’s Director, Professor Jon Gluyas, interviewed on the subject in Davos, Switzerland, ahead of the World Economic Forum.

At the heart of their work is a local project which we hope will result in governments and energy companies looking to County Durham for answers to issues of global warming, energy security and fuel-poverty. 

Could abandoned coal mines become a source of low-carbon, sustainable energy?

DEI researchers are exploring whether abandoned coal mines in the region could become a source of low-carbon, sustainable energy for the local community.

Many of our towns and villages have a long history of coal mining. But when the mining stopped, so too did the pumps that extracted water from the mines. In the decades that have followed the former mines in our region and across the UK have filled with water.

This water is naturally heated by the earth and a Durham team led by Dr Charlotte Adams is exploring whether it could be used to heat homes, public buildings and even swimming pools in our region.

This geothermal energy would offer energy with significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels. It could also reduce the UK’s reliance on imported energy and bring additional inward investment to our region.

Working locally and globally

Dr Adams’ team has undertaken research work in Spennymoor. The team is now working with the Coal Authority, local councillors and Bishop Auckland MP, Helen Goodman, to explore the potential for geothermal energy in County Durham. They are also working to raise wider awareness of the potential of geothermal energy, including contributing information to a Parliamentary debate led by Helen Goodman last summer.

The hope is that, if proven viable, this County Durham project could be the start of a new approach to low-carbon heat globally and one that enables coal mines to once again contribute to their local communities.

This column was first published in the Durham Advertiser.