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An innovative new partnership between academia and industry will harness Northern Ireland’s natural geothermal resources, thermal energy that comes from the sub-surface of the earth to encourage the most efficient use of energy by industrial users such as data centres.

The project funded by Invest NI and led by Ulster University will be supported by industry partners Causeway GT, Atlantic Hub and Enisca. The group are working together to find novel ways to make industrial facilities efficient in their clean energy use.

The project will consider all new renewable energy sources like wind and solar while exploring opportunities and barriers to harnessing Northern Ireland’s geothermal energy resources in the form of natural heat emanating from the earth’s core.  Such geothermal heat is used around the world to generate electricity and provide heat to agricultural and industrial processes, but is as yet untapped in Northern Ireland.  The project will also assess the distribution and harvesting of geothermal resources in Northern Ireland’s subsurface, the utilisation of geothermal energy at the surface including conversion to electricity, and required policy and legislative framework in Northern Ireland to enable accelerated and sustainable geothermal development.

The partnership selected Professor Neil Hewitt, Head of the School of Architecture and Built Environment at Ulster University as the principal investigator supported by Dr Patrick Keatley, Lecturer in Energy Policy at Ulster University and the project is supported by industrial partners Atlantic Hub, Enisca and project champion CausewayGT.

Professor Neil Hewitt commented:

It is essential that we adopt a partnership approach between academia and industry to deploy research informed solutions to play our part in achieving the target set by the Government of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 . Using our unique geographical location, we are harnessing the geothermal potential in Northern Ireland to help generate and deliver electricity from renewable sources. This partnership launch is timely as nationally, the British Geological Survey has stated that geothermal heating is part of the UK’s net-zero approach, enshrined in COP26.

Welcoming the project, Dr Vicky Kell, Invest NI’s Director of Innovation, Research & Development said:

Our Competence Centre Programme aims to support businesses to accelerate new innovations which can drive market growth. The Decarbonisation project is a great example of this and will encourage collaboration between industry, academia and business to address an important energy demand in particular for data centres and other industrial users. Northern Ireland is well placed to lead the way in decarbonisation and developing clean energy and this project will support this by focusing on Northern Ireland’s geothermal resource, a potential renewable energy source which is as yet largely untapped.

Martin Doherty, CASE Centre Manager, commented:

This is project is a first for CASE both with regard to the targeted demand challenge of data centres, and with respect to utilisation of Northern Ireland’s geothermal resources as an infinite renewable energy source.

Dr Simon Todd, Managing Director and Chief Technologist, CausewayGT said:

We are delighted to be part of such an exciting project, with such quality partners in UU, Atlantic Hub and Enisca. Geothermal Energy is a renewable energy source that is available all day, every day, whatever the weather.  It comes from the earth beneath us and is the largest source of clean energy on earth. The backing from CASE and InvestNI gives Northern Ireland the opportunity to take a lead in the development of geothermal energy.

Brian Doherty, CEO of Atlantic Hub, commented:

Our ambition is provide data hosting that is amongst the greenest in Europe so we are delighted to explore all renewable energy options including geothermal and believe integration and optimisation in the energy system will deliver extraordinary outcomes.

Conor King, Managing Director of Enisca, stated:

The Enisca team are excited to provide the mechanical and electrical engineering and the control systems integration  input into the project and see much opportunity for all in the development of Northern Ireland’s energy systems.

The project is valued at a total of £275,788 and is supported by the Centre for Advanced Sustainable Energy (CASE) plus further contributions from the industrial partners. CASE is funded through Invest NI’s Competence Centre Programme and aims to transform the sustainable energy sector through business research.

Three industrial partners are involved in this project.  Causeway Geothermal (NI) Ltd (“CausewayGT”), a newly formed geothermal energy company, will be the project champion and will contribute analysis of geothermal resource distribution, access and harvesting.  CausewayGT will also contribute to policy and techno-economic analysis, as well as overall project management.  Atlantic Hub Ltd (“Atlantic Hub”), which is in advanced stages of design for development of data centres in Derry/Londonderry and Letterkenny, will be focused on the energy use and optimisation aspects of the project.  Enisca Ltd (“Enisca”), the engineering firm based in Cookstown, Tyrone, will support the front-end engineering and design of possible prototype systems for progression after the DDCGE project has completed