Electricity using Abandoned Mines
Updated: May 21
Did you know: there are methods to use gravity and old mine shafts to generate electricity. One such method is called a gravity-based energy storage system, which harnesses the potential energy of large masses lifted to higher elevations.
Here's how it works: A mine shaft can be converted into a vertical tunnel or a deep pit, and a large mass, such as a heavy block or a container filled with rocks or water, is raised to the top of the shaft using mechanical or electric means. The raised mass represents stored potential energy.
To generate electricity, the stored potential energy is released by allowing the mass to descend under the force of gravity. As it descends, the mass can be connected to a generator, which converts the gravitational potential energy into electrical energy.
The scale of this opportunity should not be underestimated, with “At least 50,000 of them are estimated to exist in Australia; over 550,000 have been found in the USA, including over 100,000 that pose a significant environmental risk; and over 10,000 are known to exist in Canada.” (Big Think, 2023)
The generator can be a turbine connected to an electrical generator or a flywheel connected to a motor-generator system. As the mass descends, it spins the turbine or flywheel, which then produces electricity.
The electricity generated can be used immediately or stored in batteries or other energy storage systems for later use. Once the mass reaches the bottom of the mine shaft, it can be raised back to the top using external power sources, such as renewable energy or off-peak electricity, to repeat the cycle.
This gravity-based energy storage system can provide a way to store excess energy generated from renewable sources, such as solar or wind power, and release it during times of high demand or when the renewable energy sources are not available.
It's worth noting that while the concept of using gravity and old mine shafts for electricity generation is feasible in theory, the practical implementation depends on various factors, including the specific characteristics of the mine shaft, the availability of suitable locations, and the economic viability of the project.
There are numerous advantages over methods such hydroelectric dams, however. Firstly, the construction of large dams can lead to significant ecological and environmental impacts. The flooding of vast areas to create reservoirs disrupts natural habitats, submerges forests, and alters aquatic ecosystems. This can result in the loss of biodiversity and displacement of wildlife, affecting the overall ecological balance.
Secondly, damming rivers can disrupt the natural flow of water, impacting downstream ecosystems and affecting fish migration patterns. Many fish species rely on free-flowing rivers to spawn, and dams can hinder their reproductive cycles, leading to declines in fish populations.
Furthermore, the sedimentation of reservoirs behind dams can cause the accumulation of silt, which reduces the reservoir's capacity and affects the downstream river's health by depriving it of nutrient-rich sediments.
Large-scale dams also have social and cultural implications. They often require the displacement and resettlement of communities living in the affected areas, leading to the loss of homes, farmland, and cultural heritage. The social and economic impacts on affected communities can be profound and long-lasting.
Lastly, the construction and maintenance of dams can be capital-intensive and time-consuming. They require significant upfront investment, and ongoing costs for maintenance, operation, and eventual decommissioning must be considered. In contrast, the mine shaft method makes use of pre-existing infrastructure to a substantial extent.
In the end, humankind will require a full suite of technologies to satisfy our energy demand, along with concerted efforts towards energy efficiency across our entire civilisational infrastructure.
Further reading: check out the following article from Big Think
For information on active exploration of this technology in Australia, see: