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Waste heat recovery keeps Islington communities warm

London underground tunnel

LSBU and London Underground Ltd have been looking at ways of reusing heat produced by the tube system to heat buildings in Islington

Partnering with London Underground

A new partnership has been established between London South Bank University (LSBU), London Underground Ltd (LUL), and Islington Council that should make a vital contribution to cutting carbon emissions while keeping the capital’s commuters cool at the same time.

“We’ve been working on cooling London Underground for a number of years and one recent study involved working at York Road Station near Islington. The heat removed by cooling the Underground is usually exhausted to the outside air and wasted,” explains Dr Gareth Davies, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Refrigeration and Air Conditioning.

There are two key issues affecting London’s Underground tube system: the fact that it generates a lot of heat that is currently not recovered; and the fact that this waste heat can contribute to the overheating of tube carriages, making travel uncomfortable for passengers.

Nick Boot Handford of LUL expands on this: “During these discussions, we realised that there was both a big heat demand in the area and a means of distributing heat via Islington’s district heating scheme. Therefore, in collaboration with Islington Council and LSBU, we decided to investigate linking the Underground’s cooling system with Islington’s district heating scheme to provide cooling and heating from one system.”

Reusing the heat produced by the LU tube system

There are two key issues affecting London’s Underground tube system: the fact that it generates a lot of heat that is currently not recovered; and the fact that this waste heat can contribute to the overheating of tube carriages, making travel uncomfortable for passengers. The existing partnership with LUL and the idea for reusing the heat from York Road Station led to a project called Metropolitan Integrated Cooling and Heating (MICAH).

MICAH was established to determine the feasibility of transferring waste heat from London Underground to Islington Borough Council’s district heating network, thereby providing a low carbon heating and cooling solution. It involves the transfer of the heat generated in the Underground to where there is demand for heat, and in doing so provides cooling for LUL.

Reducing CO2 emissions

“MICAH is definitely an important, low carbon, environmentally friendly way of providing heat,” says Dr Graeme Maidment, Professor of Refrigeration and Air Conditioning. “Currently, heat constitutes 47 percent of all end use energy demand, while cooling accounts for 19 percent of all electricity use. Alongside other global environmental challenges, reducing heating and cooling energy use is therefore a high priority.

“The government has agreed via the Climate Change Act to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050, and some of the gases used in cooling have a high Global Warming Potential. As a result, any initiative that reduces their use has to be worth investigating.”

Assessing the technical viability of the system

The feasibility study funded by Innovate UK will investigate the technical viability and business case of using LUL’s heat exchanger at York Road Station to transfer heat to Islington Borough Council’s district heating network. Combining the two systems should reduce the energy required by both parties.

“As well as looking at how it might work technically, there are also some key non-technical barriers for this project,” says Professor Maidment. “Issues such as how a scheme might work commercially, who is commercially responsible for what and how commercial transactions might take place need to be assessed.

"We also need to see whether the scheme is eligible for Renewable Heat Incentive funding and, if so, who the recipient of the grant would be. As a result, the project is about working through many of the technical, commercial and behavioural questions involved, not only to identify its feasibility for LUL and Islington Council, but also to explore the potential for utilising other sources of waste heat in the future, such as data centres and supermarkets.”

With this in mind, the partnership is currently applying for funding for a demonstration project, alongside a funding stream via Innovate UK to progress initial feasibility studies.

Research impacts:

  • The project is pioneering the repurposing of waste heat generated by the underground tube system as a potent resource for improving London’s energy efficiency and cutting carbon emissions.
  • Although a new project (it started in 2016), the partnership has already had two papers accepted for conferences, and the team has also been invited to run a workshop on the concept in Ireland.
  • A breakfast briefing with London Underground was presented at the Houses of Parliament.
 
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