A new partnership between London South Bank University (LSBU), London Underground Ltd (LUL), and Islington Council is pioneering the use of waste heat generated by the Underground system to cut carbon emissions while keeping the capital’s commuters cool and the people of Islington warm.

Underpinning this innovative project is the highly productive long term relationship between LSBU and LUL. This provides the reservoir of experience and trust needed to tackle such a complex project: a resource which would not have existed 10 years ago.

“We realised that there was both a big heat demand in the area and a means of distributing heat via Islington’s district heating scheme.” – Nick Boot, London Underground Senior Project Manager

There are two key issues affecting London’s Underground tube system: the fact that it generates a lot of heat that is not currently recovered; and the fact that this waste heat can contribute to the overheating of tube carriages, making travel uncomfortable for passengers. The Metropolitan Integrated Cooling and Heating (MICAH) project was established to determine the feasibility of transferring waste heat from London Underground to Islington Borough Council’s district heating network, providing a low carbon heating and cooling solution. It involves the transfer of the heat generated in the Underground to where there is demand for heat, and in doing so provides cooling for LUL.

“We’ve been working on cooling London Underground for a number of years and one recent study involved working at York Road Station near Islington. The heat removed by cooling the Underground is usually exhausted to the outside air and wasted,” explains Dr Gareth Davies, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Refrigeration and Air Conditioning.

Dr Graeme Maidment, Professor of Refrigeration and Air Conditioning adds: “Currently, heat constitutes 47 percent of all end use energy demand, while cooling accounts for 19 percent of all electricity use. Alongside other global environmental challenges, reducing heating and cooling energy use is therefore a high priority for LUL”.

As recently as 10 years ago, the focus of these kinds of research collaborations was almost entirely on generating technical solutions. However, this project exemplifies how much things have moved on. Whilst the technical issues are critical the project is as much about addressing the many technical, commercial and behavioural questions involved, not only to identify its feasibility for LUL and Islington Council, but also to explore the potential for utilising other sources of waste heat in the future, such as data centres and supermarkets.

MICAH provides an excellent example of how by working over an extended period, universities and businesses can address together not only technical solutions but also the complex commercial and deliverability issues that are often the most critical aspect of today’s research challenges.


This article first appeared in the 2018 State of the Relationship report, commissioned by Research England and compiled and published by NCUB.