Soudal founder Vic Swerts, together with two other entrepreneurs, is investing € 3.8 million in Hita,  a spin-off of research organisation VITO. The next ten years HITA wants to develop ten geothermal centrals for a total amount of € 230 million and the heating of 40,000 houses.

Just imagine: you drill a hole in the bottom of the earth of 2 to 5 kilometers deep and with a powerful pump you pump up water of about 90 to 160 °C from the deep geologic layers. You use that water to heat schools, swimming pools, hospitals and residential areas through a pipe network. The energy itself is, just like wind and sun, free, and each drilling offers enough energy to supply heating for 4,000 houses and electricity for another 1,500.

Only these drillings and the additional infrastructure require a substantial start-up investment of many millions and tons of knowledge. VITO has this knowledge for quite some time since they are running a deep geothermal experiment in Mol since 2013. The well that has been drilled there, supplies energy for SCK (Studiecentrum voor Kernenergie), Belgoprocess and VITO itself. That is an equivalent of 1,500 houses.

Soudal

Now also the first millions have been collected. Three Kempen entrepreneurs, Vic Swerts of silicone giant Soudal, Jan Tormans of the engineering company with the same name and Paul Lauwers from doors and windows producer Profel are together investing € 3.8 million in Hita, which means “heat” in Iceland. Hita is a recently founded spin-off of VITO that needs to valorise the collected knowledge about deep geothermal energy.

During the next ten years the development company wants to develop and market about ten geothermal centrals, that stands for an investment of € 230 million. This amount only comprises the geothermal centrals (the pump installation and the giant heat exchanger), not the heating network itself.

The industrial sector

The centrals produce together 600,000 megawatthour of green energy, in line with the energy note of the previous Flemish government. That is enough to supply heating for 40,000 houses and electricity for 15,000 extra. Every year there will be a reduction in CO2 emissions of 140,000 tons.

“It is up to us to join these financial and technical partners” says Geert De Meyer, CEO of Hita. “For each project we will study the technical feasibility, draw up a business plan, acquire the necessary permits, arrange a warranty (insurance), manage the consults with local governments and secure subsidies. For now, we will not provide the funding for the building of a new central, but we do want to develop a new industrial sector for geothermal energy in Flanders.” 

Scoop

The commercialization of deep geothermal energy is something new in Belgium. Until now, besides the test project of VITO there is only a well owned by the city of Saint-Ghislain. Janssen Pharma is also preparing a project in Beerse. In our surrounding countries they have progressed much further: a part of Paris has already been heated with geothermal energy since the 50’s and in Berlin 1.2 million households are connected to a heating network. The Netherlands have developed in the last ten years what Hita wants to achieve in the next ten years.

“The big advantage of deep geothermal energy is that it can continuously deliver energy, as opposed to sun and wind”, says De Meyer, who is already working on this matter at VITO since 2013. “A central operates during 8,000 hours per year. It is mainly the goal to provide heat for large heat demanders such as hospitals, schools and swimming pools. Outside the city centers also new planned residential areas are interesting, they will then not have a gas network. Generation of electricity is also possible, but therefore the water must be hot enough (at least 115 °C) to drive a turbine.”

Turnhout

De Meyer is optimistic about a first central of Hita in the area of Turnhout, that should be operational in five years. “The cards are positive. The city has included deep geothermal energy and heat networks in their policy note. We know from test drills that the aquifers in the area are big enough. That diminishes the investment risk. We are also talking with the city council and with Fluvius, the fusion company of Eandis and Infrax, that besides gas and electricity possibly also wants to develop heat networks.”

For the investing entrepreneurs it is partially about a long term investment, partially about social engagement. “From the very beginning I was interested in the potential of deep geothermal energy”, says Vic Swerts, the 79-year old founder and owner of Soudal who is personally investing     € 1.3 million and who is president of Hita. “To drill kilometers deep in the Kempen soil and then pump up hot water to use as an energy source that appeals to our imagination. With this company we can do something for our society and for Soudal itself.”

It is about risk capital, De Meyer admits. “It is never sure if a drilling, that will cost about € 5 million, will deliver the expected temperature or flow. The first years we will not be profitable, but once a central is built, it will continuously deliver energy for about 25 to 30 years at a stable price. This can not be said about gas.”

Source: De Tijd (Dutch only)

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