Developing a Guide for Harnessing Low-grade Geothermal Energy from Minewater for Heating and Cooling Buildings

EPA Grant Number: SU835692
Title: Developing a Guide for Harnessing Low-grade Geothermal Energy from Minewater for Heating and Cooling Buildings
Investigators: Winkler, Richelle
Current Investigators: Winkler, Richelle , Masterton, Adrienne , Garrod, Andrew , Anna, David , Occhietti, Deanna , Louie, Edward , Macleod, Eric , Meldrum, Jay , Warsko, Kayla , Blumberg, Krist , Michaelson, Melissa , Slagle, Nicolette , Savage, Sana , Tran, Theresa
Institution: Michigan Technological University
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2014 through August 14, 2015
Project Amount: $14,490
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2014) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Air Quality , P3 Challenge Area - Safe and Sustainable Water Resources , P3 Awards , Sustainable and Healthy Communities


The goal of this project is evaluate the technical and social feasibility of tapping water in abandoned mines for geothermal heating and cooling. Geothermal heating and cooling systems are regarded as the most efficient and an environmentally benign alternative to burning fossil fuels, which emit air pollution and contribute to climate change. Minewater geothermal is an innovative approach that uses existing shafts in order to reduce or eliminate any required drilling; thus installation costs are significantly reduced. It also provides an opportunity to connect alternative energy development to the cultural legacies of mining, attracting interest from the broader public and increasing knowledge of geothermal energy amongst multiple constituencies. One of the greatest challenges for implementing minewater geothermal is the fact that there are only a few successful models globally and no feasibility framework or guide to help communities and stakeholders evaluate the local potential for developing a system. The team will develop such a guide and create table top demonstration models.


Engineering and social science team members will collaborate to understand and document technical and social concerns that communities near abandoned mines should consider with regards to minewater geothermal, using the community of Calumet, MI as a case study. Key tasks include: (1) a GIS analysis locating mineshafts and the number of people living within close proximity to shafts, (2) developing a tool for determining maximum amount of heat/cool that can be extracted without exhausting the resource, (3) constructing a spreadsheet for estimating energy demand, (4) developing a list of products and procedures necessary to gather data on temperature gradient and water depth, (5) constructing a spreadsheet to analyze capital costs and potential energy savings/payback as well as potential carbon savings, and (6) qualitative analysis of a (a) community workshop held to understand social support/challenges and (b) interviews with community leaders and members. The team will respond to oversight from a board of community members who will review the project quarterly.

Expected Results:

The team will develop a public guidebook for evaluating the potential of minewater geothermal and design table top models for education and instruction. These materials will be targeted for communities around the world located near abandoned mines who could use them to evaluate and understand the social and technical feasibility of installing a minewater geothermal system. Hence, the project outcomes are to assist former mining communities in working towards developing minewater geothermal systems, which would reduce reliance on fossil fuels (and carbon emissions), contribute to energy savings and increase job opportunities in impoverished rural areas, strengthen community identity, and reduce basic costs of maintaining comfortable temperatures through heating and cooling.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 3 publications for this project

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report