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by Sofia Villegas
16 January 2024
Recycling supercomputer heat could warm millions of homes

Millions in Scotland are worried about appropriate heating | Alamy

Recycling supercomputer heat could warm millions of homes

The University of Edinburgh will lead a multi-million project to trial a pioneering heat storage system. 

Researchers will examine the first-ever design in the UK able to store waste heat from computers in disused mines.  

Excess heat from the university’s Advanced Computing Facility could heat at least 5,000 households in Scotland’s capital.  

The system's potential to help the heating crisis is expected to boom after the installation of the next-generation Exascale supercomputer at the site, researchers have said. 

Waste heat levels could grow from around 70 GWh to 272 GWh. 

The announcement follows recent findings from a YouGov poll showing that almost one-third of Scottish people feel anxious about heating their homes adequately in the coming months. 

Lead academic on the project, Professor Christopher McDermott said: “Most disused coalmines are flooded with water, making them ideal heat sources for heat pumps. With more than 800,000 households in Scotland in fuel poverty, bringing energy costs down in a sustainable way is critical, and using waste heat could be a game-changer.” 

The project named 'The Edinburgh Geobattery' will investigate how water in old mine workings near the computing facility could help heat people’s homes. 

Testing will augment the cooling down process of the supercomputers to then transfer the captured heat - up to a temperature of 40°C - into mine water, where natural groundwater flow will transport it into people’s homes through heat pump technology.  

If successful, researchers estimate a national roll-out of the system could heat up to seven million households, as a quarter of UK homes sit above old mines. 

With the potential to provide a global blueprint for converting mine networks into underground heat storage, the project holds significant financial opportunities and could be key to face the climate crisis. 

Led by Edinburgh-based geothermal company TownRock Energy, the team is formed by international talent including researchers from the University College Dublin, who are funded by Geothermica and the Geological Survey Ireland. 

In total, £2.6m has been awarded to the project.  

The University of Edinburgh is the lead research partner on the project and is providing £500k of funding and the Scottish Enterprise has awarded a £1 million grant to the project through the Join programming Platform Smart Energy Systems (JPP SES) and Geothermica. 

Both networks have co-funded projects developing innovative heat and cooling solutions. 

The US Department of Energy will also give a $1m fund to colleagues at the Idaho National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. 

Other partners include the University of Strathclyde and UofE’s commercialisation service, Edinburgh Innovations, which will ensure any findings are financially attractive to potential investors. 

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