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Compressor component crucial to solving CCC heat pump sustainability concern

Heat pump manufacturers should review all system components on existing designs following warnings from the latest Climate Change Committee (CCC) report that the ongoing rollout could increase F-Gas emissions, according to Scottish firm Vert Technologies.

Picture Copyright Chris Watt

The CCC’s new 2022 Progress Report to Parliament cited concerns that the anticipated widespread take-up of heat pump systems could represent a ‘significant source of F-Gas emissions’ without governmental action. Specifically, the CCC is recommending targets and plans for the rollout of heat pumps that do not use F-Gas refrigerants to address any potential rise in emissions.

With this in mind, Nicol Low, chief operating officer at Vert Technologies, is highlighting the need for manufacturers to look at how current systems can be adapted for low global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants if they are to alleviate the CCC’s concerns. “The CCC’s latest report has further spelled out what was always going to be a major hurdle for the heat pump industry. Namely, that while the technology is ostensibly more sustainable than gas boilers, the fact that a lot of existing systems use high-GWP refrigerants such as R404A, R410A and R13A poses new environmental risks.

“In order to mitigate any concerns, manufacturers must look at components such as compressors if they are to adjust their systems for use with low-GWP media, including propane, ammonia and carbon dioxide. Though this should already be part of these organisations’ decarbonisation efforts, if these new targets are to follow previous CCC recommendations into law, what was once a preference will become a priority. As such, it is undoubtedly much better to future-proof and get ahead of the curve now insofar as heat pump design is concerned.”

A major issue impeding the widespread adoption of more sustainable heat pumps is that the high pressure ratios and absolute pressures required for low-GWP refrigerants represent a significant challenge for traditional compression technology. Consequently, multiple compressor units need to be chained together to adequately compress greener media, at added equipment and operational costs that can mount up at economies of scale.

Nicol concludes: “Traditionally, heat pump manufacturers have had to make a choice when it came to system compressors – would they prioritise efficiency, or sustainability? But with heat pumps representing a major plank of the Government’s heat decarbonisation strategy and F-Gas regulations becoming increasingly stringent, more innovation is required in this space.

“In order to facilitate greater uptake of low-GWP-using systems to the level that is clearly required, design engineers should seek out scalable, high-performing compressor technologies. Addressing a comparatively small component could lead to a big impact and further underline the heat pump’s status as a viable, greener alternative to meeting the utility needs of the nation’s building stock.”

11 July 2022

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