VITO has gained an in-depth knowledge of geothermal energy during the development and construction of the Balmatt plant in Mol, and we now want to share that expertise with companies that are interested in using geothermal energy themselves. VITO maps out the likelihood of success of new geothermal energy projects and calculates the profitability.

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The switch to geothermal energy can be a major step for companies. They are being invited to contact VITO for information and feasibility studies in order to analyse the potential of specific projects. “Interest has grown over the last few years, particularly in the agriculture and horticulture sector. Geothermal energy may offer a solution to the high demand for heat in that sector,” says Stijn Janssen from VITO. “The technology is often far too costly for one company, and that is why farmers are working together to have studies carried out to find out whether it is a worthwhile investment.”

Feasibility studies

A survey process conducted by VITO involves desk research in the first instance. Researchers read through existing data and test results, and determine whether a site is viable for geothermal energy. This can be followed by seismic testing, which is carried out by external partners under VITO’s supervision. “The third stage is data processing,” explains Stijn. “We use this as a basis for a specific recommendation: is a geothermal energy plant possible or not? And if so, will it be profitable? We assist companies in drawing up their business plan and the preparation of their application.”

Commercial approach

VITO analyses project proposals not just from Flanders but from the southern Netherlands as well. Companies choose VITO because of the similar substratum and its experience with the Balmatt plant. The Netherlands has a longer track record when it comes to geothermal energy, says Stijn Janssen. “The Dutch government is providing support for companies that are considering geothermal energy. It grants subsidies, for example, to commission feasibility studies. There is also a guarantee scheme in place: if a plant fails to achieve the return that was hoped for, the government will reimburse a portion of the investment cost, and that reduces the risk for companies. Flanders is now also developing such a scheme, and we will be exploring the opportunities in France and Germany in the coming months.”

In old mines too

In addition to the familiar geothermal energy plants, VITO  is also focusing on heat from abandoned mineheads. That technology is more sustainable and cheaper because no new boreholes are needed. The water that is pumped up is not as hot, but is still warm enough to heat homes via a thermal network. We are supporting a plant in the Netherlands to help them reach optimal production levels. Studies are already being conducted in both Flanders and the Netherlands to investigate the potential of other abandoned mineheads, both in the Netherlands and Belgium and abroad.