Survey work on geothermal demonstrator project to begin near CAFRE Antrim

Geophysical survey activity on lands in and around the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) Greenmount Campus near Antrim will take place mid-late July as part of the Department for the Economy’s (DfE) GeoEnergy NI geothermal demonstrator project.

Officially launched in June, the project led by DfE with scientific support from the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI), will explore the potential for sustainable geothermal energy right beneath our feet through geothermal demonstrator projects in two locations in Northern Ireland – one based at CAFRE’s site near Antrim and the other in the Stormont Estate in Belfast. Both sites are believed to have suitable geological conditions which could deliver significant geothermal potential in the future.

Geothermal energy is a low carbon and renewable energy source from the natural heat beneath the Earth’s surface and is already widely used successfully across the world. Available 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, whatever the weather, this energy source is there and has been used for thousands of years for heating and cooling, as well as for electricity production. It is hoped that geothermal energy can play a significant part in decarbonising the Northern Ireland economy in pursuit of climate change targets and increase our security of energy supply through harnessing a locally available, cost-effective, renewable, and low-carbon energy source.

The CAFRE survey work, which will be carried out over two weeks in July, is designed to increase our scientific understanding of the rocks below the surface near Antrim. Data collected from this survey will be used to develop a 3D geological model of the underground geology, down to several kilometres’ depth. This will be used to assess the geothermal heat potential at the Greenmount Campus but will also provide information on the suitability for future low-carbon sustainable heat in the wider Antrim area. In the near future, this could enable a low carbon, geothermally powered district heating network and the decarbonisation of heat intensive agri-food, horticulture, and other industrial processes, similar to what is done in the Netherlands with green houses for fruit, vegetables and the flower industries.

As part of this work, a specialist team will be undertaking a range of surveys in the area mainly on farmlands within a small radius of the Greenmount campus. It will also include a seismic reflection survey which will primarily take place over 3-4 days (between 17 July 2023 – 24 July 2023) along public roads (Dublin Road, Tirgracy Road, Oldstone Road) and some minor farm tracks nearby. Road closures with associated diversions have been applied for.

Seismic reflection is a well-established geophysical survey method which uses a specialist and very distinctive truck-based vibrator to send low-frequency vibration waves into the ground that are picked up by nearby sensitivity receivers. This part of the survey will take place mainly at night to minimise traffic disruption and only lasts for a few minutes at each location.

Speaking about the geophysical survey activity Peter McConvey Associate Hydrogeologist from Tetra Tech Europe, who is the project manager for this aspect of the project said; “It is very exciting to begin this important survey work which will help us better understand the potential for harnessing geothermal energy in the local Antrim area in the future. We would like to thank the local landowners for their co-operation and support in allowing our specialist team to access their land to gather the necessary data. We would also like to assure local residents and road users that we will be working hard to keep any disruption to an absolute minimum during this short survey period and would encourage people to visit our website or follow our social media channels to find out more. Just search for GeoEnergy NI.   The project is a very exciting development for Northern Ireland as a whole and we believe that the work we will be doing on behalf of the Department for the Economy will be critical to unearthing the geothermal potential beneath our feet for the benefit of the environment, the economy and the local community.”