the decarbonized future and the contribution of the heat pump industry
Heating and cooling accounts for almost half of global energy consumption. Most of this relies on fossil fuels and therefore contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. In parts of the world lacking modern energy access, inefficient biogas used for cooking also harms people’s health, damages the environment and reduces social well-being. According to the WHO, air pollution today kills about eight to ten million people every year.
The transition to renewable-based, energy-efficient heating and cooling could follow several possible pathways. “One way to cleaner air and fewer CO2 emissions can be the increased use of heat pumps”, says Alexander Cohr Pachai, senior product specialist at eurammon member Johnson Controls Denmark and chairman of eurammon’s technical committee focused on heat pumps. “Heat pumps operating on natural refrigerants have a very low impact on the environment and provide a good level of efficiency – which helps save valuable resources.”
The call to reduce CO2 emissions is widely heard in society, politics and the economy. Within the EU, there is a push to phase out boilers, and the uptake of heat pumps in many industries is increasing day by day. The EU Commission has suggested that temperatures of up to about 250°C or higher could be covered by heat pumps. “Many industrial processes can benefit from high temperature heat pumps and save money on the fuel bill”, says Pachai. “There are a number of important fields of application, such as space heating and heat in industrial processes of up to about 350°C. There is a very wide range of possible application for heat pumps in industry but particularly also in terms of industrial space heating, like at airports, in large building complexes, etc.”, he explains.
Heat storage as part of the system is also useful for generating energy with heat-to-energy systems (often referred to as “ORC”). This can take place in one or two stages, recovering heat from even very high temperature levels, e.g. flue gas from a burning process.
Heat pumps will form part of the backbone of a CO2 emission-free society. They make it possible to recover heat from many levels and boost it to levels that are attractive for industry. Many projects have shown that temperatures of up to about 180°C are viable with today’s heat pump technology – a key technology for the future. The International Energy Agency recommends that at least 50% of heating needs should be based on heat pumps by 2045 and that more than 500 MW heat pump capacity should be installed in the next 30 years.
As it moves towards this goal, the heat pump and natural refrigerants industry faces two crucial challenges. The first is about logistics. “If Hydrogen is to be widely distributed, we will need to upgrade the current infrastructure”, Pachai says. “Hydrogen is a tricky little molecule that will penetrate even the smallest leaks. The gas lines we have for natural gas are not likely to meet the pressure codes need for Hydrogen.” The second challenge is the competence of engineers and technical staff. “There are about five million boilers in Europe, and the people involved in the servicing and maintenance of these boilers will need to be requalified to work on heat pumps”, he continues. “This will put a lot of pressure on the training systems in Europe.”
There are thus a number of tasks we will need to tackle on our path to a decarbonized future. The natural refrigerants and heat pump industry has understood the demand for sustainability and will be contributing its efforts to making it a reality.
This article is based on a presentation of Alexander Cohr Pachai held at the eurammon symposium 2021.