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Energy storage offers new future for Europe’s former coal mines

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Tanks and Terminals,

A novel form of energy storage could offer a new future for former coal mines, as countries worldwide seek to decarbonise their energy supplies.

Scottish energy storage firm, Gravitricity, is exploring the potential to transform a former Czech coal mine into a massive energy store – which could be a pathfinder for projects Europe-wide.

Gravitricity specialises in gravity energy storage, which stores and discharges energy by lifting and lowering massive weights in a shaft.

The storage specialists have already demonstrated a scale version of their technology in Edinburgh – built in partnership with Dutch winch specialists, Huisman – and now plan to commence a full-scale 4 – 8 MW prototype scheme in a disused mine in 2022.

This single weight system could deliver up to 2 MWh of energy storage – enough to power more than 16 000 homes for 15 minutes. Future multi-weight systems could have capacity of 25 MWh or more.

They are currently exploring a shortlist of sites Europe-wide.

Company engineers have just returned from a mission to the Staríc [Staric] mine in the Moravian Silesian Region of Czechia, where six deep mining sites were formally transitioned into a post mining phase earlier in 2021.

On site, they investigated the mine shaft, traveling to a depth of over 1 km underground and met state-run mine owners DIAMO, along with the regional government and local stakeholders including VSB Technical University of Ostrava.

Project Development Manager, Chris Yendell from Gravitricity, said: “As the world moves to net zero, we are shifting from coal generation to intermittent renewables – and with this comes a need for energy storage. By utilising former coal mines as massive energy stores, we can find new uses for existing infrastructure and help mitigate the social impact on mining communities.

“We received a very warm welcome in Czechia and have received a formal letter of support from the region’s governor.”

The Staric mine lies within a large coal field which extends across the border into Poland and is one of a number of mainland European sites shortlisted by the storage specialists. They plan to make a final site decision early next year.

Ludvík Kašpar, CEO of DIAMO, added: “We are ready to cooperate in this preparation of this project and have provided Gravitricity with all the information to allow them to make a fully qualified decision on the Staríc mine. We are convinced that closed mines have the potential for further use and an energy storage project could be attractive and useful for the region.”

Worldwide, Gravitricity estimates there are around 14 000 mines which could be suitable for gravity energy storage.

In South Africa, Gravitricity is engaged with a number of globally recognised mining houses and is supported through the Innovate UK’s Energy Catalyst programme.

In addition, the firm is also exploring opportunities for a purpose-built prototype shaft at a brownfield location in the UK, where gravity storage could be combined with hydrogen and inter-seasonal heat storage.

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