Scientists have started the next stage of a major project to transform the former Newcastle Brown Ale brewery into a pioneering centre of hot water power.
They are drilling down 2km below the surface to tap water they believe is about 80C, which will heat a 9.3ha science park to be built where the brewery once stood, and a large city centre shopping mall.
Project leader Professor Paul Younger, of Newcastle University, said Britain lagged behind other countries in developing geothermal power, and the £1M scheme was the only one of its kind in the country.
The geology of the Newcastle site lends itself to the project and conditions in Bristol, Aberdeen, Plymouth and north Cheshire also looked promising, he said.
The professor, of the Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability, said: “Our aim is to rise to the challenge of putting a novel form of deep geothermal energy at the very heart of city centre regeneration.
“This is a golden opportunity to see if we can provide some, if not all, of the energy requirements for Science Central from the most low-carbon energy source there is.
“If we’re right and we pump up water at such elevated temperatures, it would mean a fully renewable energy supply for a large part of the city centre, massively reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and reinforcing Newcastle’s position as the UK’s most sustainable city.”
He spoke as a “Big Rig” was placed over the drill hole to take over the operation. It stands 16m tall and can lift 100t.
One firm oversaw the operation to bore to 250m, now another is in place to make it reach 2km in about a month.
Prof Younger said the lower crust of the Earth warms water at that depth, and that process is boosted in some places by heat generated by decaying radioactive isotopes found in granite.
Tom Pickering, Geometric Drilling’s managing director, said: “We are very pleased to be working as part of this pioneering UK geothermal project and take pride in being able to transfer our traditional oil and gas drilling competencies into the emerging market of green geothermal technologies.”
If the plan to power the Science Central park works, the same scheme could be used to heat Eldon Square shopping centre in Newcastle city centre.