EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Hydrogeochemical impacts of pumped hydropower storage in open-pit lignite mines

Tobias Schnepper1,2, Michael Kühn1,2, and Thomas Kempka1,2
Tobias Schnepper et al.
  • 1GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Fluid Systems Modelling, Telegrafenberg, 14473 Potsdam, Germany
  • 2University of Potsdam, Institute of Geosciences, Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 24-25, 14476 Potsdam, Germany

Large-scale energy storage is becoming more important due to the increase in electricity generation from renewable sources and the related grid balancing requirements. In this context, Pumped Hydropower Storage (PHS) in former open-pit lignite mines can substantially contribute to energy supply safety. Assuming an average storage capacity of 150 MW per open-pit mine, PHS could generate a power output of at least 6 GW in European mines which will be abandoned in the next two decades. Experiences from mine-flooding across Europe demonstrate that hydrogeochemical processes can become a critical environmental and economic factor for the realisation of such projects. Depending on sulphide and oxygen availability, buffer capacities and dilution processes, mine waters with increased acidity as well as elevated sulphate and metal concentrations can pose a threat to adjacent ecosystems, groundwater resources and the installed PHS infrastructure.

We present a generic parameter study by means of numerical simulations to predict changes in the mine water composition as a result of PHS operation in different hydrogeochemical settings. Published datasets on hydrogeochemical, hydrogeological and technical conditions with a focus on German mines were applied for model parametrisation. A reaction path model was developed that accounts for initial mine flooding, inflows and outflows as well as pumping and release cycles between the two reservoirs. The simulations were run until chemical equilibrium was achieved in the lower reservoir.

Simulation results indicate that the long-term availability of buffer capacities in the reservoir water and adjacent sediments determine the development of acidic or neutral mine waters. Sulphate concentrations are mainly influenced by dilution processes, emphasizing the relevance of considering additional in- and outflows. Depending on these fluxes as well as oxygen availability and initial sulphide concentration in the mine sediments, the time to reach chemical equilibrium in the lower reservoir varies significantly from several weeks to months. Furthermore, the dissolution of sulphides and carbonates as well as the precipitation of iron (oxy)hydroxides may affect the properties of the open-pit slope sediments. Their long-term stability may be altered, based on their initial mineral concentration and hydraulic conductivity.

In summary, potential impacts on water quality in the PHS reservoirs have been investigated under different hydrogeochemical settings. We conclude that, under specific boundary conditions such as the availability of sufficient buffer capacities and dilution by controlled inflows and outflows, PHS operation in abandoned open-pit coal mines can be realised from an environmental perspective.

How to cite: Schnepper, T., Kühn, M., and Kempka, T.: Hydrogeochemical impacts of pumped hydropower storage in open-pit lignite mines, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-8226,, 2023.

Supplementary materials

Supplementary material file