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Abandoned coal mines are getting a second life with 'untapped energy source': 'Turning ... this liability into a resource'

"This opens up an opportunity …"

"This opens up an opportunity ..."

Photo Credit: iStock

Abandoned coal mines will soon serve a new purpose that will benefit the environment thanks to an initiative from the Biden administration.

In May, it was announced that $450 million from the Inflation Reduction and Infrastructure laws will be used toward clean energy projects, like solar farms, at former coal mines.

"In a less predictable climate and in a warmer world, this opens up an opportunity for turning this legacy, this liability, into a resource," Natalie Kruse-Daniels, a professor and director of the Environmental Studies Program at Ohio University, told CNBC.

In addition to solar farms, the coal mines provide a new opportunity to use geothermal energy. CNBC explained that the water found at abandoned coal mines typically contains heat from below the Earth's surface. Drilling holes can bring that heat to the surface to be passed through heat exchanges and heat pumps in buildings and homes. 

Geothermal energy has a dual benefit, as it can be used for both heating and cooling purposes.

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The initiative followed a similar effort from the government in Great Britain, as the country launched a mine-water heating operation near the end of March that would impact over 1,200 homes.

"Each minable scheme poses its different challenges, and there will be expenses involved with drilling boreholes or laying district heat network pipes in the ground," explained Gareth Farr, head of heat and by-product innovation at the Coal Authority in Mansfield, England. "But hopefully most of these schemes, if not all of them, will be able to operate at a similar or better cost to the traditional fossil-fuel heating schemes we have at the moment."

Coal fields exist in at least 20 states in the U.S., including more than 4,000 abandoned coal mines in Ohio alone. Kruse-Daniels and her students at Ohio University have been studying which coal mines are close enough to town to be used for geothermal energy.

"It's this untapped energy source that could reduce bills, that could make energy more efficient, that could reduce some reliance on fossil fuels," Kruse-Daniels said.

Farr added, "We can store heat in mines, and we do hope that actually this could become part of vital heat storage. Storage is key, of course, for a lot of renewable energies."

While Americans wait for geothermal energy, they can take advantage of the Inflation Reduction Act by using money provided by the government to renovate their homes with energy-efficient technology like heat pumps or induction stoves.

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