Harnessing geothermal energy in a Nova Scotia battery factory

Beyond making batteries for renewable energy storage, the Surrette Battery Company has been utilizing geothermal energy since the mid-1990s.

As the world transitions to renewable energy, and more of our vehicles and appliances are powered by electricity, storage continues to be a big concern.

In fact, Elon Musk recently put forward a plan to vastly increase the world’s energy storage capacity.

Nova Scotia’s Surrette Battery Company has been ahead of this curve for some time know. The company has been around since 1935 and is currently Canada’s only independent battery manufacturer. Once focused on making batteries for auto, marine, and industrial applications, they now mostly create batteries to start trains and, increasingly, for renewable energy storage.

But they’ve also been early adapters in another source of renewables: using geothermal energy since the mid-1990s.

Situated in Springhill, N.S., the factory sits atop a former mine system, filled with water heated by the earth's core, which cuts their heating costs dramatically. The factory moves a lot of air for filtration so it can get very cold in the winter or hot in the summer. The air conditioning gives operators cool air on the back of their neck while working in a hot environment. Any machine that requires cooling is being indirectly cooled by geothermal. The geothermal water itself is quite corrosive so they do not use the water directly but chill it through a radiator or a thermal transfer device to cool anything in the plant.

Nathan Coleman - Geothermal1 - Surrette Battery Company

A look at some of the geothermal infrastructure inside the Springhill hockey arena. (Nathan Coleman)

Content continues below

"It was quite a capital expenditure, but ACOA (Atlantic Canada Opportunity Agency) helped us out and it has cut our heating costs down,” J.D. Surrette, the company's chief operating officer, told The Weather Network. “It also allows us to be air conditioned, which — even in the U.S. — the southern plants are not air conditioned.”

Now Nova Scotia's Department of Natural Resources and Renewables is investing $80,000 to study how to further expand the geothermal resource in the municipality of Cumberland County.

READ MORE: Volcanoes in Canada could one day be used to generate renewable energy

Springhill Mayor Murray Scott says the lower cost of energy could be a draw to attract more businesses to his town.

"We're trying to find some opportunities into maybe some sort of a pilot project. My thought would be around a greenhouse or something where we could prove that cheap energy, lessening that carbon footprint and hopefully provide safe food," Scott told The Weather Network.

This community centre and hockey rink are already hooked into geothermal.

Watch the video above to find out more about Surrette’s operation and how geothermal works.

Thumbnail image: Workers inside the Surrette Battery Company in Nova Scotia. (Nathan Coleman)

*Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misidentified the geothermal infrastructure in the photo caption. It has since been corrected.