Pollutive refrigerants pose sustainability risk to heat pump rollout

heat pump

Heat pump suppliers are being urged to consider balancing an expected surge of installations in 2021 with long-term environmental targets concerning the global warming potential (GWP) of refrigerants used in the technology.

Following the announcement from the Heat Pump Association that 67,000 heat pump installations are expected in the UK this year, Vert Technologies is concerned that meeting this surge in demand will mean growing numbers of installations using high global warming potential (GWP) refrigerant working fluid.

Specifically, Nicol Low, COO at Vert Technologies, is highlighting the importance of moving away from using high GWP refrigerants as soon as possible, which contribute toward greenhouse gas emissions.

He says: “The fact that demand for electrically driven heat pumps is increasing against the gas-burning competition is clearly good news for the environment, but attention should be paid to where there is potential for further pollution. The high GWP potential of refrigerants used in these installations is often overlooked.

“The country is currently phasing out hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) used as refrigerants, such as R404A, R410A and R134A, as part of a larger effort to reduce HFC use by 79% by 2030. This is something heat pump manufacturers need to bring into greater focus if they are to futureproof their installations, as this phase-out will have long-term ramifications when it comes to ongoing performance.”

The removal of these pollutive HFCs from circulation in favour of natural, low-GWP refrigerants presents new challenges for the traditional compressor models used in heat pumps. Specifically, while better for the environment, these more sustainable alternatives require high pressure ratios and absolute pressures in order to achieve good performance.

Technologies such as Vert’s conical rotary compressor (CRC), could offer a solution. A scalable and inherently quiet technology, Vert compressors are able to achieve the high-pressure ratios and absolute pressures needed to get the best from natural refrigerants such as CO2 and ammonia.

“Continuing with long-standing solutions such as scroll, screw and reciprocating compressors could potentially leave heat pump manufacturers between a rock and a hard place, needing to compromise on either sustainability or performance,” explains Nicol. “By contrast, the adaptable rotor geometry and optimised pressure ratios of the CRC can be tailored for use with low GWP media, creating performant heat pumps without incurring significant extra OpEx.”

He concludes: “Sustainability has gone from a consideration to a necessity in all sectors, including the heating sector, and legislation is constantly moving to reduce emissions wherever possible. As such, while the phasing out of fossil fuel heat sources in favour of heat pumps is an excellent first step, installers and manufacturers must be vigilant of where future improvements can be found. By being aware of issues surrounding low GWP refrigerants and traditional compressor models, for instance, companies can react accordingly and ensure green, practical and futureproofed solutions.”

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