Future-fit technologies enable sustainable heating and cooling – but they need highly educated engineers
As head of the European Academy of Refrigeration Air Conditioning and Ventilation, Prof. Dr. Krimmel deals with the future of the RACHP sector and the future engineers on an almost daily basis. In the following interview, he talks about the development of the RACHP sector and the importance of training future engineers.
The RACHP sector is progressing dynamically. The resulting developments and their contribution to sustainability are without question. Which are the most crucial innovations in recent years?
Initiated by the F-gas regulation and its corresponding phase-down of synthetic HFC refrigerants, there has been an increase of applications using the so-called natural refrigerants. Refrigeration circuits using natural refrigerants are future proof, in particular regarding further possible political restrictions. The increasing digitisation is a major trend in the RACHP sector with the purpose of increasing efficiency and reducing costs. Advances in control engineering, remote control and complete monitoring enable high efficiency under various operation conditions, as well as precisely tailored maintenance and service. The widespread use of heat pumps is a key element in achieving climate neutrality. Regarding industrial applications, high-temperature heat pumps providing process temperatures of preferably more than 100oC are currently being developed. In the domestic sector, recent studies suggest the ecologically and economically viable use of heat pumps not only for new constructions, but also for existing buildings. Heat pump applications in existing buildings are essential for the decarbonisation of the building sector as a whole. Finally, topics such as air purification and air quality have gained a lot of attention during the corona pandemic.
What role do you see for natural refrigerants in these current developments in heating and cooling?
As just mentioned above, natural refrigerants are future proof solutions for most cooling and heat pump applications. Ammonia has always been the refrigerant of choice in case for industrial facilities, but small-scale applications are rather limited by economic aspects. In commercial refrigeration applications, new cooling units are dominated by CO2. However, CO2 circuits are comparatively more complex. Developments enabling easier construction and operation (reflecting the trend towards plug-and-play) may boost a more widespread use of CO2. Concerning hydrocarbons, a safe handling requires strict compliance with well elaborated safety rules. Applications using hydrocarbons in combination with secondary loop systems seem to become a major trend in the years to come. The remaining natural refrigerants include water and air. They are restricted to very specific applications until now. I think there is a very large potential for using water for heat pumps and air for cooling applications, but a lot of innovation and development is required to establish these refrigerants in the broad market. Therefore, water and air represent the exciting natural refrigerants in the future, since large application potentials still have to be exploited.
How is the qualification of young engineers in the RACHP domain changed by technological progress?
First, technological progress represents additional topics that have to be included in the curricula of engineering study courses to ensure state-of-the-art education. In addition, the ongoing developments lead to engineering challenges and solutions of increased complexity. This calls for a systemic approach focusing on links, relationships, and training knowledge transfer competencies between academia and the refrigeration industry.
Which skills and competencies do engineering graduates have to show to start a successful career in the RACHP sector?
Today, graduates from an engineering study course haven’t acquired a complete set of knowledge and skills. Starting from a firm base of classical engineering knowledge, it is important to independently learn and master new topics and technologies. Since technological progress is an ongoing process, this likewise holds true for learning. Knowledge in project planning and project management is frequently demanded. A certain awareness of standards and legal regulations is required. Good communication skills are always advantageous.
What is the biggest challenge in educating RACHP specialists and how will education and training in this domain change in the future?
The lack of specialists is a widespread phenomenon also observed in the RACHP sector. The first step is the hardest, the biggest challenge is to attract young talent and to motivate them to start an education or a study course in the RACHP domain. There are some major current technological trends in the RACHP sector that will persist in the years to come, in particular the increasing digitisation and efforts to further improve efficiency. The future changes in RACHP training and education will reflect these developments. The impact of digitisation will be twofold, not only regarding the RACHP technology itself but also the method of education: electronic forms of teaching, learning, and examining will increase.
How do you assess the future career prospects of young engineers in this domain?
The future career prospects of young engineers in the RACHP sector are excellent. As already mentioned above, there is a widespread lack of specialists, particularly in the technical domains including the RACHP sector. There is and will be a high demand for experts in the field. Moreover, important developments of today’s societies (climate change and decarbonisation as well as the corona pandemic, to mention just two) result in increasing markets for RACHP technology and the corresponding growing demand for well-educated staff. This development will continue for the years to come, there is no end in sight.