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Study to see if abandoned mines can store electrical energy

February 3, 2019

NEGAUNEE, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Technological University and a city in the Upper Peninsula are working together to see if abandoned mines can be converted into storage for electrical energy.

The university and Negaunee are planning a pilot study of the Mather B Mine site. The study is being funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Researchers hope to see if underground pumped hydroelectric storage could be profitably used in communities throughout the Lake Superior area. Marquette County has about 200 underground mine sites.

Electricity companies already use hydroelectric power in dams and river basins. The method generates energy when water stored at a high elevation flows down through a turbine. Stored energy can be used to help balance the energy system’s needs when demand is high but power generation is low.

Roman Sidortsov, an assistant professor of energy policy, said the revolutionary part of the study is placing that system underground.

“If we move the entire system below ground and make it self-contained, there would be no effect on surface water flow, ecological systems or landscapes or scenic views,” Sidortsov said. “An underground pumped hydro storage system might be essentially invisible.”

Negaunee City Manager Nate Heffron said officials support the study.

“Discovering a way to return these places to productive industrial use, providing jobs and lowering energy costs, while also preserving or enhancing the historical fabric of our community — this is an amazing opportunity for us all,” he said.

City officials plan to bring community members into the project design process.

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