Vito gets closer to harnessing geothermal energy

Summary

The middle phase of a local project exploring the extraction of geothermal heat from the earth is complete, and forecasts suggest the process could eventually provide enough energy to heat 800,000 homes

Third phase set to begin

The Flemish institute for technological research (Vito) has completed the first two phases of a local project aimed at extracting geothermal heat from the earth. The third phase consists of installing a power station at the Balmatt site.

Geothermal energy is based on touching the heat of the deep layers of the earth, where temperatures are naturally higher than at the surface. At the Vito site in Mol, Antwerp province, drilling went down to 3,610 metres, to the 350-million-year-old limestone layer under the ground, where the temperature reaches 138 degrees Celsius. When pumped to the surface, the water from that layer retains a temperature of 126-128 degrees, which allows it to be used for heating.

In the second phase of testing, it was found that water could also be returned to the limestone layer, in order to be reheated and pumped back out, creating a closed water loop. A second drilling to re-introduce cold water reached a depth of 3,830m, with the tests on the reintroduced water being completed in September last year.

The site is now ready to install a power station on the surface where water will be pumped up from the depths, used as a source of energy and then re-injected into the limestone layer to be reheated naturally, for the cycle to be repeated. Works on the third phase are expected to be completed by the end of the year.

After that, other sites in the region, also served by the underground limestone layer, will be investigated. According to forecasts, the layer could provide enough power from the natural heat of the earth’s crust to supply 80 geothermal plants in Antwerp and Limburg provinces, providing heat for 800,000 homes.

Photo courtesy: Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences

Sustainable energy

The five main renewable energy sources in Flanders are biomass, biogas, wind energy, solar energy and water power. The renewable energy sector has grown sharply in recent years, with wind and solar energy production especially on the rise.
Agency - The Flemish Energy Agency is responsible for implementing the government’s sustainable energy policies. Its central tasks are to promote rational energy use and environmentally friendly energy production.
Green energy certificates - One of the principal measures to promote sustainable energy are the certificates the Flemish energy regulator (Vreg) awards for electricity generated by renewable energy sources. Since the regulations were tightened in 2012, investments in renewable energy installations have declined.
Obstacles - According to the Flemish Energy Agency, the main challenges in local renewable energy production are the region’s short coast, limited height differences and direct sunlight, and high population density.
11

new wind turbines created in Flanders in 2013

6 030

million kilowattage of green energy in 2012

6

percentage of green energy used in Flanders in 2012