Heat Pumps Hold Potential in Household and Commercial Applications

Heat pumps can significantly reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and the adoption of heat pumps is continuing to increase in both household and industrial applications as technology advances.

“The biggest innovation in the heat pump space is the introduction of CO2 into the industrial sector. Because of the heat potential of CO2, heat reclaim has taken on a much bigger role in that space,” said Andre Patenaude, director, solution strategy, cold chain, Emerson. “The pressures around decarbonization also help engineers to spend more time designing and looking at all the areas where heat could be used.”

Heat pumps can be used in a wide range of applications, from heating and cooling buildings to powering industrial processes such as drying, evaporation, and distillation.

“The technology itself is quite simple. It is like your refrigerator. It gets cold inside and warm on the outside. We are just using the warm side of the refrigerator pump instead of the cold side to get useful heating out of it,” said Kenneth Hoffmann, application manager for GEA Heating and Refrigeration Technologies.

Adam Shorey, director of sales engineering for Therm, said there is an age-old saying that there is no such thing as cold. There is just the removal of heat.

“Typically, ACs take the heat in a building and exit it to the atmosphere. Heat pumps take the heat and bring that into the building for HVAC, comfort cooling, or domestic hot water,” Shorey said. “A heat pump is like a window air conditioner operating in reverse. It can take heat from the ground or other sources.”

Shorey said heat pumps are more efficient than boilers or furnaces. “A furnace or boiler has a coefficient of performance (COP) of under one whereas heat pumps, depending on if it is air or ground, have a COP of two, three or four, so they are that much more efficient,” he said.

Heat pumps use electricity, directly replacing a Scope 1 emission and replacing it with a Scope 2 emission, Shorey said. He added that when the grid is clean, it drops emissions further.

Hoffmann said the biggest benefit comes from applications that combine heating and cooling. “District heating, community heating, and campuses are looking to heat pumps for the heat source. If we can do combined heating and cooling that would be ideal for applications such as data centers, otherwise we need to find other heat sources like air, ground source water,” he explained.

Manufacturing facilities often require heat and cooling. “There are a lot of refrigeration plants that have just sent heat outdoors to large evaporative condensers. Some of the smart ones are saying, ‘We have megawatts of heat here and we need heat in this part of the system. Let’s add heat exchangers to send the heat over here for this process,’” Patenaude said.

In food facilities, for example, the heat could be used to heat water for their wash down. “They have to clean the facility and typically need 140- or 160-degree water. You can get that easily from a CO2 system,” Patenaude said. “Then the additional heat leftover can be used to heat the space.”

Even if the heat pump doesn’t cover all the heat needs, it could preheat a certain process and then be topped off with fossil fuels or electrical, Patenaude said. GEA has delivered its first two low charge ammonia/NH3(R717) industrial heat pumps—the Red Genium and the Red Astrum—in Canada and has orders for three heat pumps for a large multinational food company in Texas. “They are looking to decarbonize their facilities globally, so that is also why they are doing it in Texas,” Hoffmann said.

Emerson recently held an open house in Quebec to show the CO2 heat pump it has been testing for two years. “We have 12,000 hours of run time on an industrial CO2 heat pump,” Patenaude said, adding that Emerson has been working with a large electrical utility. “They have a vested stake in trying to satisfy some of the decarbonization needs in their province. Everywhere in the world is trying to decarbonize.”

The North American market is playing a bit of catch-up compared to Europe. “We’ve been selling industrial heat pumps with ammonia in Europe for 15 years. We’re just starting to see the first projects in the U.S.,” Hoffmann said, adding that the U.S. sales team is getting a significant number of inquiries.

The focus on decarbonization is driving interest. “When we started 15 years ago, CO2 emissions were not an issue. Nobody was talking about that,” Hoffmann said, explaining that people were interested in the cost savings heat pumps could provide.

Patenaude said there typically is a cost savings associated with CO2 heat pumps. While some investors today are looking for a payback, others are interested even if costs end up beings slightly higher because of the environmental benefits, Hoffmann said.


Heat pump use can vary by region. “In Canada, you see a lot of the district heating. In the U.S., it is more process heating,” Hoffmann said. Some applications for heat pumps work better than others. “Heat pumps, once you’re at a temp, are really good at maintaining that temp,” Shorey said. “There is a lot less impact to leaving your heat pump on.”

Hoffmann said heat pumps like to run smoothly. “You can get the heat instantly, but it takes a bit of time for them to start up or shut down,” he said, adding that if there are big variations in loads, such as in a bath process, the systems can use a buffer tank of hot water that can heat up slowly.

Currently, the GEA’s heat pump limit is 212 degrees Fahrenheit. “We’re developing higher temperatures and running a trial next year,” Hoffmann said, adding that the higher-temp units should be available commercially in about two years.

Fritz Troller, CEO and founder of Therm said costs of heat pumps can vary, especially between residential and commercial applications. “Our role is to reduce or eliminate any premium by doing the development, marketing, and sale of those carbon credits,” he said, adding that Therm works with its customers to help obtain Refrigerant Carbon Credits™.

Troller explained that Therm can run calculations to help customers quantify the GWP gap and outline how carbon emissions can be avoided using environmentally friendly solutions. “We want to help bring down the GWP footprint of our customers while eliminating or reducing the premium between a not environmentally friendly decision or one that is energy efficient,” he said.

As new technology develops, technicians will need to be trained on it, and Hoffmann said GEA is already looking at technician demand. “We can see the market is growing rapidly and we need to have a plan for that. You need to be a little ahead of the curve,” he said. “We need to train them to have them available when the systems are being installed.”