Hydroelectric engineers find potential in centuries-old mine

December 18, 2016 by Mary Esch
In this Dec. 8, 2016 photo, Steve Burke and Jim Besha of Albany Engineering Corp. stand at the site of an abandoned iron mine in the Adirondacks, in Mineville, N.Y., where they're seeking a federal permit to build an underground hydroelectric pumped storage project. The hills behind them are "tailings" leftover from crushing ore to extract iron from the mine that closed in 1971. (AP Photo/Mary Esch)

Some look at an abandoned, centuries-old iron mine in New York's Adirondacks and see a relic.

An ambitious group of engineers sees the shafts in Mineville as a new way to provide a steady flow of electricity in a growing market for renewable energy.

They are pitching a plan to circulate some of the millions of gallons of groundwater that have flooded the mine shafts over the years to power an array of 100 hydroelectric turbines a half-mile underground.

They envision the operation as a solution for solar and wind power producers, who need ways to ensure an uninterrupted flow of energy when the sun isn't shining and winds are still.

"Today, everyone's recognizing that a critical part of our energy infrastructure is going to be storage," said Jim Besha, head of Albany Engineering Corp., as he gave officials a tour of the mine site about 100 miles north of Albany. "You can think of it as a bank. If someone has excess solar energy, they would pay a fee to store it overnight."

While logistically complex, the plan is at the same time incredibly simple: Engineers would drain roughly half of the water from the shafts and pump the remainder into an upper chamber. The water would then be released into a lower chamber, powering turbines and creating electricity. The turbines would be reversed to pump the water back up to repeat the process.

Technically, the pumped water is considered stored energy, to be released strategically when power is needed.

The Mineville Pumped Storage Project still faces federal approvals and up to three years of construction, but it could become one of the first projects of its kind in the nation.

It also would mark a 21st century re-use of a mine that famously contributed iron for the first naval battle of the Revolutionary War on nearby Lake Champlain and was mined for the last time in 1971.

In this Dec. 8, 2016 photo, Jim Besha, head of Albany Engineering Corp., stands with his application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for an underground hydroelectric pumped storage project in an abandoned iron mine in the Adirondacks, in Mineville, N.Y. The plan is to circulate some of the millions of gallons of groundwater that have flooded the mine shafts over the years to power an array of about 100 hydroelectric turbines a half-mile underground. (AP Photo/Mary Esch)

For the locals, the pumped storage project would breathe new life into a depressed former mining town, doubling the local tax base, generating hundreds of construction jobs and a dozen permanent ones, and providing extras like a new highway garage and water lines, said Tom Scozzafava, supervisor of the surrounding town of Moriah.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a community that has never fully recovered from the closing of the mine," Scozzafava said. "And environmentally, it's very clean. It's all underground and utilizes the same water source continuously. You can't find a cleaner way to produce and store power than pumped storage."

Besha first envisioned his plans in 1990 after Scozzafava came to him looking for a way to make the defunct mine profitable again. The project languished until 2005 as interest in renewable energy projects grew.

"Now it looks like it could be online just when it's needed," Besha said, noting Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's call for 50 percent of the state's electricity to come from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2030.

The project is basically an underground version of big outdoor projects that rely on the same principle. The New York Power Authority's Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage Project in the Catskills and the proposed Eagle Mountain project in southern California, for example, use outdoor, hilltop lakes as the upper reservoirs.

The large-scale pumped storage projects, which have been used for decades to meet peak demand for electricity produced by fossil fuel and nuclear plants, represent 97 percent of the nation's energy storage today.

Now the Department of Energy is calling for a big increase in pumped storage capacity by 2050 to meet the needs of renewable energy sources that are growing so fast the Energy Information Administration predicts they'll overtake nuclear energy by 2021 and coal by 2030.

"Pumped storage enables greater integration of variable renewables, like wind and solar, into the grid by utilizing excess generation, and being ready to produce power during low wind and solar generation periods," said LeRoy Coleman, of the National Hydropower Association.

Underground projects using mines, caverns and excavated spaces have become attractive because of reduced environmental effects. In addition to Mineville, projects have been proposed for an abandoned mine and quarry in Elmhurst, Illinois, and underground caverns in Wiscasset, Maine.

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ab3a
3.5 / 5 (4) Dec 18, 2016
After repeated emptying and refilling of the lower part of the mine, I wonder if the infiltration rate of groundwater would change.The more ground water that infiltrates the mine, the less they can return to lower "storage." The amount left over in the higher storage would be wasted energy.
Nik_2213
3 / 5 (2) Dec 18, 2016
They could pump out the excess, no ?
ab3a
4.2 / 5 (5) Dec 18, 2016
Of course they could pump out the excess, but that requires energy. Wasn't the whole point of this exercise to store energy?
Caliban
3 / 5 (4) Dec 18, 2016
I think the cheif concern would be the structural integrity of the complex. Rapid and often repeated filling/emptying is sure to have some effects upon the material strength of whatever structure pre-exixts or is to be constructed.

Apart from that concern, however, it sounds good --as long as removing this groundwater from the system doesn't have a negative impact locally or downstream.
david_king
2 / 5 (3) Dec 18, 2016
The old mine probably has data on what the water intrusion rate was when the mine closed. It'd be interesting if there were a significant temperature differential between the lower section and the upper section of the mine that could also be tapped for geothermal.
I'd be worried about the stored water picking up heavy metal contamination over time and then leaching into surrounding groundwater but that's probably unlikely if there is already intrusion.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Dec 18, 2016
Bottom line is -
It needs to cost less to pump it back up than it provides in the down phase...
That includes initial capital input and subsequent "wear and tear".
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (5) Dec 18, 2016
It needs to cost less to pump it back up than it provides in the down phase

Are you really demanindg a perpetuum mobile? NO storage technology delivers more than it costs to put in.

That doesn't mean a storage technology cannot be economical. Power costs a lot when it's short and costs little when it's in plentiful supply - so even a rather lossy storage type can make money.

Even if it doesn't make money then you have to see it in combination with the energy source. Solar alone isn't going to be economical vs. fossils because...well...nighttime. But solar and storage can be economical vs. fossil fuels. Easily.
gkam
1.7 / 5 (6) Dec 18, 2016
Heavy metals? Other pollutants?

david_king, those are good concerns, but I think it will make them keep the contamination in their working fluid low, and therefore keep the mine cleaner than it would be otherwise.
ab3a
5 / 5 (3) Dec 18, 2016
It needs to cost less to pump it back up than it provides in the down phase

Are you really demanindg a perpetuum mobile? NO storage technology delivers more than it costs to put in.


I think what he's referring to is the cost of electricity, not the amount required.
gkam
1 / 5 (6) Dec 18, 2016
Believe it or not, most developers of pumped storage are well aware of those differences. They do not need to be told.
RealScience
5 / 5 (2) Dec 18, 2016
After repeated emptying and refilling of the lower part of the mine, I wonder if the infiltration rate of groundwater would change...


Pump-hydro storage is typically charged and discharged on a daily basis, moving 50% of a mine-full per day. Infiltration would have had to be low when it was a working mine, but even if it jumps to something really high like filling the whole mine in a month, that's only ~3% per day or 6% of the energy stored.

Water contamination might be a problem, but the mine must have pumped out whatever infiltrated over the ~200 years that the mine operated. Of course standards were much more lax in those days... but the developers are planning to drain half the water anyway, so they almost certainly checked for contaminants (and that water has been in there for decades).
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (3) Dec 18, 2016
It needs to cost less to pump it back up than it provides in the down phase

Are you really demanindg a perpetuum mobile? NO storage technology delivers more than it costs to put in.


I think what he's referring to is the cost of electricity, not the amount required.

Thanks, Ab, but AAP is right...
I let tongue precede brain...:-)
Of course it's gonna cost more, cuz there is a lot more work being done by pumping it back up. But that's the price for keeping a steady flow of electricity.
Anyway, I just wonder approx what that cost would be...
Pooua
1 / 5 (2) Dec 18, 2016
The denser the mass of the storage material, the more energy it can store. It might be better to pump out all the water and use giant weights in place of water for the pumped storage.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (4) Dec 19, 2016
Anyway, I just wonder approx what that cost would be...

They recently did a study for one of these in germany. It's not (yet) economical. Costs about the same as building an above-ground hydro storage.
(link in german, only)
http://www.heute....278.html
They're planning a second phase together with investors to evalue whether it's doable.
At 300 million for 450000 households that's still a significant price tag.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Dec 19, 2016
The denser the mass of the storage material, the more energy it can store. It might be better to pump out all the water and use giant weights in place of water for the pumped storage.

Unfortunately, the denser the storage medium, the higher the energy requirement to move it back... Liquids are your best bet...
RealScience
5 / 5 (1) Dec 19, 2016
Unfortunately, the denser the storage medium, the higher the energy requirement to move it back... Liquids are your best bet...


But the more energy it takes to move it back up, the more you get when you let it down.

Pooua is correct in the abstract - if the mine were just a perfectly straight vertical shaft, then a plug of dense rock on a cable (or hydraulics) would store more energy than water, and would offer comparable efficiency (hydraulics) or even higher efficiency (direct drive).

However a mine is typically a maze of twisty little passages, all different, and water flows while solids don't. Therefore while there are proposals to quarry around giant plugs of rock, liquids are typically more practical in existing mines. Pumping water is easy!

(Even so more mass would help - we could fill the mine halfway with mercury and store over an order of magnitude more energy. But that would cost more and be toxic, so let's stick with water).

Gino
5 / 5 (1) Dec 20, 2016
The idea of hauling up large weights to store energy to generate electricity is by no means new , in the 1890,s such devices were used in large houses for lighting with the weights wound up manually by a servant
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Dec 20, 2016
in the 1890,s such devices were used in large houses for lighting with the weights wound up manually by a servant


Reference?

Even a huge stone weighing a ton would only store 10 kJ per meter lifted, and would light a single carbon filament bulb for roughly 3 minutes. The servants would have to be heaving the weight up constantly, which is no better than putting people on a treadmill to generate power.

Imagine a field of cubic meter stone blocks weighing 5 tons each, all side by side being lifted up by a motor-generator and then dropped down from a height of 2 meters. A single block would store less energy than a common laptop battery: 28 Watt-hours. A square kilometer of them would store the annual energy demand of a single modern house.

antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Dec 20, 2016
However a mine is typically a maze of twisty little passages, all different, and water flows while solids don't

To add to this: mines are mostly vertical 8due to the nature of ores usually coming in layers). The horizontal parts are only the minute portions used to convey men, machines and ore to/from the surface.

However there's a couple of companies exploring the idea of using railcars as energy storage
http://www.utilit.../417817/

Of course the smaller version funded by an indigogo campaign (search for Gravity light and GravityLight 2)
RealScience
5 / 5 (2) Dec 20, 2016

@ AA - I think that you switched vertical and horizontal.

@ Eikka:
Imagine a field of cubic meter stone blocks weighing 5 tons each ... a height of 2 meters... A square kilometer of them would store the annual energy demand of a single modern house.


Why annual? That would be the OVERNIGHT demand for almost a thousand houses.

Yes, a servant with a rock for an 1890s light is silly, but the energy stored scales with the 4th-power of the system diameter. I mentioned proposals to quarry around giant plugs of rock, so I'll supply a reference for one: "heindl energy". A 500M plug would fit on that square kilometer and provide >100 GWh, which would be significant.

I am, however, skeptical about the practicality: engineering challenges rarely stop people from at least trying, but a giant plug of rock rising up 500M overnight might trigger a NIMBY reaction, being a bit more visible than a windmill...
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Dec 22, 2016
AA - I think that you switched vertical and horizontal.

You're right. My bad.
Lord_jag
5 / 5 (2) Dec 22, 2016
Personally I would prefer to see something like:

https://en.wikipe...ea_Canal

The dead sea is falling at feet per year because the inlet river was diverted. Refilling it would be a 400m drop from sea level. Even the hole proposed would only fill the sea as much as it's draining from evaporation.
Lord_jag
5 / 5 (1) Dec 22, 2016
The Canal proposal makes me thing there should be a way to use the relatively close boiling and freezing point of water to our advantage. Could you heat water in a bubble at the bottom of a hill and run the steam in a large enough tube up to the top of the hill where it can condense? Maybe even help it along a little with some mirrors to focus sunlight on the bubble at the bottom.

Let natural forces help you move some of the water around for you. Make your own water cycle..
RealScience
5 / 5 (1) Dec 22, 2016
@Lord_jag - I would prefer to see both, but I agree that the canal proposal would be higher.

If it is done right, it not only generates power and possibly fresh water, but restores the dead sea in the process, and it involves collaboration between countries that are sometimes at odds politically, too!
RealScience
5 / 5 (3) Dec 22, 2016
... Could you heat water in a bubble at the bottom of a hill and run the steam in a large enough tube up to the top of the hill where it can condense? ...

It takes over 2000 kiloJoules to evaporate a kg of water, and one gets only 10 Joules per meter of drop, or 10 kJ per kilometer, so even with a 2 km drop the system is only ~1% efficient.

Drinking water? Yes, a solar still works.
Power? No, a kilometers-long tube cost more that a solar panel.

Basically hydroelectricity is solar energy harvested at a fraction of a percent efficiency, but since nature built the evaporator/condenser/aggregator, and we just have to intercept the aggregated flow and install a turbine, the economics work.
Eikka
not rated yet Jan 01, 2017
I am, however, skeptical about the practicality: engineering challenges rarely stop people from at least trying, but a giant plug of rock rising up 500M overnight might trigger a NIMBY reaction, being a bit more visible than a windmill


I think a giant rock plug rising up 500 m overnight would trigger some seismic activity first. People's houses get cracked walls from trucks driving too fast over speed bumps nearby because the ground is slightly fluid - imagine the effect on the soil from hydraulically lifting a whole mountain.

Plus, the other problem with the "heindl energy" idea is the massive amount of water it needs. I remember it would lower the surface of lake Geneva by a meter when filled. Using the system would effectively cause tides in one of the three largest lakes in Europe.

That would be the OVERNIGHT demand for almost a thousand houses


A small village of houses would have a field of rising stone blocks larger than the village itself.
Eikka
not rated yet Jan 01, 2017
OVERNIGHT demand for almost a thousand houses


More to the point - in the current energy grid; not just the electric grid mind you - there exists a strategic reserve for 2-3 months of demand on the point that it allows time to re-structure the supply in case of a natural disaster or war - for example if Russia cuts their gas supply, which would otherwise leave the whole eastern Europe and Germany in the cold. With the reserves, the countries can coast through the conflict and set up rationing and alternate supply without immediate economic collapse.

In the renewable grid, a similiar problem exists if a major power corridor gets damage and you lose the virtual battery, and it takes months to rebuild connections. The communities, towns and cities, need to survive on actual local batteries for the time being, so "overnight" isnt really cutting it.

Overnight backup is the absolute minimum requirement from which you start to build a renewable energy system.
gkam
1 / 5 (4) Jan 01, 2017
"Overnight backup is the absolute minimum requirement from which you start to build a renewable energy system."
-----------------------------

Nope. First of all, the wind blows at night. Water runs through turbines at night. Biogas-fueled generators work at night. We just have to make sure we have sufficient sources, like they do with polluting sources.

We have fossil fuels for backup, so we only have to replace them. We can do it piece by piece, as we are doing now.
RealScience
not rated yet Jan 03, 2017
A small village of houses would have a field of rising stone blocks larger than the village itself.

Agreed - serious NIMBY potential. No one wants a hydro dam, nuclear power station or coal-fired plant in their back yard either... and an enormous wall of rock wall makes those look friendly!

I think a giant rock plug rising up 500 m overnight would trigger some seismic activity first.

Many a power dam impounds more than 1/3 km3 of water - lake Mead, for example is 100 times that volume.
I remember it would lower the surface of lake Geneva by a meter when filled

Agreed - it is a lot of water - best near the ocean, and well-lined against seepage.

I, too, am skeptical about the practicality .. but if it does work then a half dozen of these would store an entire day's electricity generation for California. And a day is enough to fire up even an ultra-efficient combined cycle turbine or a nuclear reactor from standby.

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