RESEARCH into the potential of using geothermal energy as a low-carbon heat source has helped a Durham University researcher win a prestigious national award.

Dr Charlotte Adams, an Assistant Professor in Durham’s department of earth sciences, has been named Energy Champion by the UK Energy Institute (EI).

The EI is a chartered professional membership body which brings global energy expertise together.

It presents the award to researchers “who are shaping the world’s energy future”.

In Dr Adams' case, it recognises her work on sustainable, low carbon, heating using water from abandoned former coal mines.

Heat production accounts for more than half of the UK’s energy demand and currently most of this is met by burning gas – a major contributor to greenhouse gases.

Research by Dr Adams and her colleagues has found that water within former coal mines could provide enough geothermal energy to meet the UK’s demand for heat for more than 100 years.

Water is pumped from under the ground and the heat is extracted using heat pumps before being returned to the ground.

As the Earth warms the water naturally, geothermal provides the opportunity to heat homes and businesses with a much lower carbon footprint.

As well as helping to providing a secure, reliable and cleaner source of heat, geothermal energy also has the potential to reduce the UK’s reliance on imported gas from other countries.

In addition, there are hopes that it could bring economic and social improvements to regions that suffered following the abandonment of deep mining in the UK.

A 2017 study by Durham University into using mine water to heat homes in Spennymoor, County Durham– which has considerable areas of abandoned workings from a mining history spanning over 150 years– found enough resource to heat a planned development of 200 homes.

Dr Adams is also a Fellow of Durham University’s Durham Energy Institute, a research associate in its department of engineering and research manager for the BritGeothermal Research Group.

She said: “Geothermal energy provides a real opportunity for the UK to develop a cleaner, low carbon energy source which will help to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and improve the country’s energy security.

“Geothermal could also bring economic and social improvements to regions that suffered following the abandonment of deep mining in the UK by tapping into the heat source that now exists in these former coalfields.

“It’s a tremendous honour to win this award from the UK Energy Institute as we seek to develop geothermal as a major source of heat for the next 100 years or more.”