Friday, October 2, 2009

The Soudan Mine & Geothermal Energy

The Soudan community has a tremendous opportunity to utilize the Soudan mine for producing heat and electricity. The mines’ close proximity to the town, coupled with its geothermal capabilities, ensure both great heating and air conditioning resources.

A study by Maria B. Diaz and Rafael Rodriguez concludes that geothermal energy may be created by converting mine shafts into geothermal boilers. Reference: Rafael Rodriguez, Maria B. Diaz. “Analysis of the utilization of mine galleries as geothermal heat exchangers by means a semi-empirical prediction method.” Renewable Energy 34 (7): 1716, 2009.

The capacity of the mine is so large that there wouldn’t be any disruption to current tours. In fact, as a model for other former and current mine cities/towns you would attract a whole new spectrum of tourists and visitors. They might include engineers, city planners, green energy enthusiasts, and officials of other mining areas.

The savings to the community would be immense as geothermal systems are 300-600% efficient. Given the depth of the Soudan mine and its steady 50° F temperatures all year long, the potential is great and promises higher than normal (300%) efficiencies.

The heating/cooling savings would result in bills about 1/3 to ¼ of what is currently paid. This savings is a wonderful incentive to living in Soudan and may attract additional residents while retaining more current ones.

Groundsource Heat Pumps (GHPs) also reduce electricity use by 30–60% compared with traditional heating and cooling systems, because the electricity which powers them is used only to collect, concentrate, and deliver heat, not to produce it.

Mechanical engineers could design two systems to fully utilize the mine openings. One would be used to heat and cool homes and businesses in the city. The second would be for generating electricity. Until November 2, 2009, there is a Request for Proposal (RFP) from the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTS) organization for grant funding for energy efficiency and/or renewable energy projects requiring technical assistance. This project funding can support technical assistance services (labor costs only – such as for a consultant, design professional, installer or student labor). Perhaps the IRRRB would pick up the additional costs. The IRRRB should be especially interested with the several mines found on the Iron Range. Their website is http://www.cleanenergyresourceteams.org/community-projects/request-for-proposals

This project would bring more jobs, while reducing costs for everyone in the area. Excess electricity could be fed back to the grid, and earn money.

If this mine was in my community, I would be aggressively going after its geothermal capabilities.

Possible sources of funding/financing include:

-IRRRB
-Federal/State Grants
-Local Power Company
-Referendum/Bonding

Considering the rock structure of the Soudan mine, the vast openings, and sheer depth, this is an ideal mine for energy production. Who knows exactly how much “cost-effective alternative energy” can be mined here.