To Give Fossil Fuels the Shaft – A Mine is a Terrible Thing to Waste

April 13, 2019

CleanTechnica:

Pumped hydro storage is a mature technology used around the world. Placing such a system below ground is what makes the new pilot study collaboration quite unusual.
press release from MTU outlines the basics, which are the same as any hydroelectric power generator: Store water in a high-elevation pond or tank, or behind a dam, then allow the water to flow down through a turbine to generate electricity.
Pumped hydro storage, the researchers assert, is among the cleanest and most efficient way we have to store electrical energy.
Experts have long seen large-scale hydro storage as a tapped-out market in Michigan and beyond, largely because the best locations had already been used, and the projects — which can endanger fish and other wildlife, if not painstakingly addressed — are nearly impossible to permit.
Stored energy for future use is a highly valuable resource for stabilizing the electric grid. Experts see advances in the field as a key piece of goals to slash carbon dioxide emissions in the coming decades by accommodating more intermittent renewable power added to the grid.
“Battery storage cannot match pumped hydro yet in terms of scale,” Jeremy Twitchell, an energy research analyst at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said at an energy storage conference hosted by Michigan agencies. But in Negaunee’s case, the storage facility would use surplus power to pump water up to a certain elevation. When demand outpaces power supply, the water runs down into turbines, which then generate electricity.
There is another potential benefit to such a hydro energy storage project, as the mines are generally already hooked up to power lines. Such power lines could require upgrades once a storage facility would be ready to go online, but that would be far less expensive than building new hookups. If it works, the researchers hope energy storage could bring more economic development to Upper Peninsula communities besieged by high power prices.

Michigan Tech:

“Imagine, for example, a strong wind generating power at 3 a.m. when nobody needs it,” saidRoman Sidortsov, assistant professor of energy policy. “An efficient battery allows the grid tosmooth out those variations.”
But in Negaunee’s case, the storage facility would use surplus power to pump water up to a certain elevation. When demand outpaces power supply, the water runs down into turbines, which then generate electricity.

Bridge Magazine:

In the mid 1990s, a Michigan Tech team cataloged more than 2,000 shafts from 800 mines in Marquette County and seven other western UP counties.

The amount of potentially viable sites for energy storage likely is somewhere between those numbers, said Timothy Scarlett, an associate professor of archaeology and anthropology at Tech who is involved in the project.

Hundreds of thousands more mines exist across the country. Preliminary research suggests the Negaunee mine alone could store enough electricity to power Negaunee and surrounding cities for several hours.

“If it goes national, given what we know about the size, it could be a game changer,” Sidortsov said, adding the caveat that the research is just beginning. 

Stored energy for future use is a highly valuable resource for stabilizing the electric grid. Experts see advances in the field as a key piece of goals to slash carbon dioxide emissions in the coming decades by accommodating more intermittent renewable power added to the grid.

Now, some power plants might idle for long periods, particularly when folks turn off their lights at night and need less power. Some plants, including inefficient, higher-polluting plants called “peakers,” are used only on the hottest or coldest days when electricity demands are highest. Meanwhile, power generation from wind turbines and solar panels fluctuates day to day.

Energy storage can come in various forms, such as lithium ion batteries or those made of nickel cadmium or sodium sulfur. Renewable energy experts have heralded rapid advances in technology that have made batteries less expensive, but they’re still too pricey for wide-scale deployment. 

The Michigan Tech researchers are contemplating another type of energy storage in the UP: pumped water. It’s been used worldwide and on a far larger scale than other types of batteries.

“Battery storage cannot match pumped hydro yet in terms of scale,” Jeremy Twitchell, an energy research analyst at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said last week at an energy storage conference hosted by Michigan agencies.

The best known example of pumped hydro storage in Michigan is Consumers Energy’s Ludington Pumped Storage Plant along Lake Michigan, which can generate up to 1,900 megawatts of power to be quickly dispatched when most needed.

The technology involves pumping water from a low elevation during times of low electricity demand on the grid and storing it in a high-elevation pond, tank or behind a dam. When electricity demand is high, water can flow back down the incline and through turbines.

New use for old technology

Experts have long seen large-scale hydro storage as a tapped-out market in Michigan and beyond,  largely because the best locations had already been used, and the projects — which can endanger fish and other wildlife, if not painstakingly addressed — are nearly impossible to permit.

Unlike existing pumped hydro facilities, Michigan Tech researchers envision keeping the system completely underground, inside the former mines. That could minimize environmental impacts, ease permitting and still allow for redevelopment atop former mining sites. 

“We do not need to come up with something revolutionary or different, because our confidence is that the existing technology will work,” said Sidortsov. 

The Mather Mine is in a prime spot because it’s split between a flooded lower level and a dry upper level where equipment could sit and water could be stored, said Scarlett, the Tech archeology professor. Many other mines offer similar contours. 

Theoretically, compressed air storage even be possible in a completely flooded mine, Scarlett added.

Sidortsov said the storage idea first popped into his head two years ago while he was jogging up the historic Quincy copper mine in Houghton County and noticed water rushing down the slope.

“What’s up with this elevation, and what can be done with this elevation?” he recalled thinking. 

Sidortsov soon presented that spark of an idea to Scarlett, who enthusiastically teamed on a project that recognizes the cultural importance of mines across the UP.

“We’re in this sort of natural laboratory for mining history here in Copper Country,” Scarlett said. “The physical remains are really powerful insights into the daily life of these communities.”

The Tech researchers said they would hold community meetings throughout the project, to make sure residents could offer input — and understand the work. Learning about the Negaunee’s history helped the Tech team narrow its focus to Mather mine, rather than disturbing the remnants of another mine where an accident long ago left miners entombed, Scarlett said. 

Working with the community from the get-go could help developers avoid headaches — and costs — that could come from community resistance.

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9 Responses to “To Give Fossil Fuels the Shaft – A Mine is a Terrible Thing to Waste”

  1. Gerhard Dekker Says:

    The mines offer no elevation advantage, so it would have to be compressed air storage, which is inefficient

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    Might be workable if large enough quantities of water could be pumped from deep levels to upper levels of a particular mine and then released back down through turbines.

    If water was pumped into an artificial impoundment on the surface, that would increase the construction costs considerably, and also raise the question of whether that water could get into the groundwater—-it is likely to be contaminated with much nasty stuff if it’s an old copper mine

    Perhaps not perfect, but ll in all, a much better idea than raising and lowering weights in mine shafts. And since only ~300,000 people live on the upper peninsula, they likely have more mine shafts than they can use and can pick the best.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      many, many mines and shafts throughout the US and world

      • dumboldguy Says:

        True enough, but they’ve got to be deep enough, stable enough to hold up and not “leak” or collapse, and also to not spread the heavy metal contamination that water in them typically holds. Don’t forget too that many of them are horizontal, not vertical—-I’ve been in a number of abandoned coal mines in PA and precious metal mines in several states out west that are now tourist attractions, ALL of them hrizontal. Here’s an interesting piece from 1984—-a well-thought out plan that was far too expensive to ever really consider—-all underground from top of the existing mine to bottom of the mine is likely affordable and cost-efficient.

        https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/6517343

  3. redskylite Says:

    “AGL Energy, the owner of the biggest gas generation fleet in South Australia, has announced plans to build a massive 250MW/2000MWh pumped hydro energy storage project in an old copper mine about 55km south-east of Adelaide.

    The company said on Tuesday that it has agreed to pay $31 million for the rights to develop the pumped hydro project at the old Kanmantoo mine from Hillgrove Resources, using the existing open mine pit, with a new upper pond to be built on nearby land.”

    https://reneweconomy.com.au/agl-plans-250mw-pumped-hydro-plant-in-south-australia-as-replacement-for-gas-17008/

    • dumboldguy Says:

      A positive move unless the water becomes contaminated and leaks out of the surface pond into the groundwater.

  4. J4Zonian Says:

    “…cannot match pumped hydro yet in terms of scale,” Jeremy Twitchell, an energy research analyst at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory”

    Key word: “yet”. With more wind and solar PV, we’ll have to build more storage–though not as much as arfs (anti-renewable fanatics) would like you to think. Complementarity of sources, distributed generation, and demand response will avoid the need for much of it; once we build enough batteries they will match hydro in terms of scale. The motivated unreasoning and constant Type II Whataboutery* of conservatives (whether politically or technologically) is really boring at this point.

    And imagine, someone in the Pacific NW thinking hydro storage is all that! Did he go there because he believed it or does he believe it because he’s there? A salmon and caviar question…

    Imagine this: Concrete spheres anchoring floating wind turbines: when more power is needed, water is let into the sphere through a turbine, generating electricity. When there’s excess power it pumps the water out. As much power as the Hoover Dam provides can be stored and generated using the same amount of concrete as the dam. Mobile battery installations can be used if turbines are ready before the spheres, which could be made locally. As each set of spheres is ready, the batteries could be moved on to the next project or distributed as needed.

    For lower emissions the spheres could be made with coal ash and/or Roman concrete, which strengthens over time and can last millennia. Dispatchable, tiny land footprint, potentially lower emissions than other options, quickly and incrementally built for the fastest return and payback…this should be researched and tested immediately and widely deployed as fast as possible where it’s the best option.

    Only a federal government led by sane people (or possibly a large interstate cooperative) can coordinate supply chains, accelerated siting and building, and grids to use the power. We need to get to work creating them.

    https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/07/why-modern-mortar-crumbles-roman-concrete-lasts-millennia

    * Type II Whataboutery is the relentless whining placement of imaginary obstacles in front of whatever technology or ideas the Koch-Exxon-ALEC-Republican trolls don’t like. The objections are endless because the real objection is hidden, usually even to the objectors.


  5. […] plants as energy storage units could hold promise. Add this idea to what I posted on last week, the updating of coal and other mine sites to pumped storage energy facilities – means there could be attractive opportunities to get reluctant electorates to buy into a […]


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