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University of Melbourne receives funding for geothermal heating loop design

The University of Melbourne has received a grant from the Government of Victoria, Australia for the design of a geothermal heating loop for an industrial zone.

The Victoria Government in Australia has awarded a AUD 380,000 (USD 260,000) grant to the University of Melbourne to design a geothermal heating loop for an industrial zone at Morwell in the Latrobe Valley, Gippsland. The funding program is the Investment Fast-Track Fund which is delivered by agency, Regional Development Victoria.

The geothermal loop system will be designed to deliver heat for industrial consumption by end users such as greenhouses, a microbrewery, food processing, an onsen, aquafarms or others.

This project idea has been supported through the Latrobe Valley Authority’s Geothermal Innovation Network with some 60 members all collaborating to discover Gippsland’s “competitive advantage” through the best use of its geothermal resources, backed by evidence from government and academic scientific reports about the resource.

The project will be led by Professor Rachel Webster of the University of Melbourne with Dr. Graeme Beardsmore acting as the Project Manager. Project partners include DrillTec, Rockwater Geothermal Consultants, and Green Thermal Energy Technologies (gTET). The final report will be delivered in the third quarter of 2023.

The outcome of this phase will be a design, adequate for pre-tendering, for well configuration and operation including re-injection and thermal heat management systems. This will include wellhead design with heat exchangers and heat pumps (up to 120°C), cost estimates, an economic feasibility study for specific end users, and identification of policy and regulatory issues that might impact the construction and operation of the loop. The initial design will include one production well, one or two injection wells, pumps, heat exchangers, loop systems, meters, and plant housing.

Key to the design is the ability to expand capacity and operation to provide heat to additional consumers in the area including hospitals, schools, and the Morwell shopping district.

Given the absence of similar systems in Australia, permitting, licensing and regulatory obligations are unclear for networks designed to supply multiple titles. The Victorian Geothermal Energy Resources Act of 2005 only covers electrical power generation from geothermal resources deeper than 1000 m. The State Renewable Energy Act only addresses electricity and gas and does not address the provision of heat.

A thick brown coal seam beneath the Latrobe Valley has powered the region’s coal-fired power plants for more than 60 years, but also provides thermal insulation increasing the temperature of the underlying geothermal aquifer to about 65°C much shallower than 1,000 m. The power plants are scheduled for closure in the near future due to ageing assets, and a global movement away from coal fired power generation towards lower generation costs from renewables has accelerated expansion of renewable assets across the Gippsland region. While the geothermal aquifer is shallower than similar temperature resources in Europe, Australia’s warmer climate and dispersed housing density has hindered development of geothermal heating districts.


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