Abandoned coal mines across the UK could be brought back to life as huge underground farms, according to academics.
Mine shafts and tunnels are seen as “the perfect environment” for growing food such as vegetables and herbs. Advocates say subterranean farms could yield up to ten times as much as farms above ground.
President of the World Society of Sustainable Energy Technology, Prof Saffa Riffat, believes the scheme would be a cost-effective way of meeting the growing need for food. “We have a major issue with food production and supply with the world’s population expected to reach nine billion by 2050,” said Prof. Riffat, of University of Nottingham.
The idea has already gained support from mine owners, including the Land Trust and Coal Authority, while the Chinese government has also expressed an interest. There are an estimated 150,000 abandoned shafts and 25,000km-sq of disused mines and tunnels in the UK. “I’m very excited about the enormous potential. Rather than import so much food by air, rail and sea, we could grow a lot of it here and in huge quantities,” said Prof Riffat.
“We need to do this for our future. We have a growing demand for food, especially in the cities, but less space to grow it. Tunnels and shafts would need less energy with heating, so are very attractive for food production. They’re almost perfect,” said Prof Riffat.
One 7m-sq shaft can produce 80 tonnes of food per year, according to Prof Riffat, approximately eight to 10 times the amount of food grown on the same area of land above ground.
“Any schemes involving former coal mines would inevitably throw up many technical, legal and financial challenges that would need to be overcome.”