The Large Hadron Collider will soon help heat nearby homes
Particle accelerators like CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have made some groundbreaking discoveries for physics, like measuring the spectrum of antimatter or discovering the Higgs boson – but it's hard to tell how exactly that benefits the average Joe/Jill. Now CERN has announced that the LHC will soon be more directly beneficial to local communities, by diverting some of the waste heat from the collider to help heat thousands of nearby homes.
The Large Hadron Collider is the largest machine in the world and needs to operate at temperatures colder than outer space. Needless to say, it produces a huge amount of waste heat. Normally vented away, this excess energy could be an untapped gold mine.
"At CERN, many systems and installations (cryogenics, electronics, ventilation, etc.) are cooled using water: cold water is injected into the cooling circuit and the hot water produced is then collected and cooled by cooling towers, before being reinjected into the circuit," says Serge Claudet, CERN's energy coordinator. "The hot water leaving the circuit can reach a temperature of 30° C (86° F), which is very useful in the context of energy recovery."
So CERN is planning to direct some of that energy towards a new urban development zone – or in French, zone d'aménagement concerté (ZAC). This zone, currently under construction in the nearby region of Ferney-Voltaire, will have a built-in geothermal energy system. Heat from industrial buildings, air conditioning systems and even solar energy from rooftops will be collected and stored in an underground network of water pipes. When needed, this energy can be transferred back to the surface to heat homes and other buildings.
For CERN's part, the hot water from the facility's cooling system will be collected at LHC Point 8, and diverted towards the ZAC geothermal system. It's claimed that this could help up to 8,000 people in the area, by cutting the cost and environmental impact of their heating. If all goes well, the idea could be extended in future.
"We have performed several studies and discovered that the same could also be done at other points of the LHC," says Claudet. "Notably, Points 2 and 5 could also provide heating for the neighboring communes, and we are looking into the possibility of using heat collected at Point 1 to heat the buildings on CERN's Meyrin site."
Conveniently enough, the LHC is currently closed for upgrades, so now is the perfect time for this kind of project. Work has already begun to connect Point 8 to Ferney-Votaire, and the system is scheduled for testing in 2021 with full operation hopefully following in 2022.