Cheshire geoenergy research site given go-ahead

Cheshire West & Chester Council has approved a planning application by British Geological Survey (BGS) for geoenergy research base designed to “take the pulse” of the Earth.

Ramboll and JLL helped BGS get the green light for the site, which is one of two UK Geoenergy Observatories.

An array of boreholes will give information for use in unlocking energy from underground.

Prof Mike Stephenson, chief scientist at the BGS, said: “More and more of the solutions to decarbonising our energy supply will need to come from beneath our feet. Ensuring we take forward these solutions in a sustainable way means understanding more about the system. Second by second, minute by minute, day by day, we’ll be measuring the pulse of the Earth in a way that the scientific community simply hasn’t been able to do until now”.

Approximately 50 boreholes drilled down toe 1,200m around a 12km area will enable scientsists to gain the clearest picture yet of the underground environment. The boreholes will be installed with £2,5m worth of scientific sensors, which will observe in detail how the underground system works. The sensors will generate millions of terabytes of data on the chemical, physical and biological properties of he rocks over a 15 year period, providing knowledge for use in unlocking new clean, low carbon energy technologies.

David Grove, director at technical advisor Ramboll, which is project managing the planning, engineering and construction of the facility, said: “Our Chester team has been working to bring this important investment to the Cheshire Science Corridor for the last three years. Investment in the science corridor is vital for the continuation of Cheshire and the north-west’s world-class standing and capability in science and engineering”.

Mike Hopkins, planning director at JLL, who has worked alongside Ramboll managing the planning application, said: “The proposal is an opportunity for Cheshire to provide a game-changing research facility, which will help to underpin future policy making and inform decisions on future energy mix in the UK”.

The UK’s main funder in environmental science, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), has commissioned the £31m UK Geoenergy Observatories, BGS will operate the observatories on behalf of the whole of the UK and the geoscience community.

Stephenson added: “Th UK Geoenergy Observatory in Cheshire will be a world first in its ability to observe the underground environment so closely and consistently. What we learn in Cheshire should provide a breakthrough in our understanding of how the whole underground system works”.

The boreholes will contain a network of 1,800 seismic sensors and 65km of fibre-optic cable that can measure earth tremors 1,000 weaker than you can feel. They will allow thousands of water samples to be taken over the next 15 years from between 50m and 400m below the surface. Some 8km of borehole drilling will generate 3,000 m of rock core, which will be taken back to the BGS’s national core scanning facility for laboratory analysis. All the data will be made free and open via a publicly owned website.

The Cheshire site will be one of two observatories in the UK. The other is being drilled in Glasgow and comprises 12 boreholes over a 4km area. The Glasgow observatory will allow the UK’s earth science community to probe whether warm water within the UK’s disused mine workings can generate a geothermal heat source that could become a sustainable part of the energy mix.