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New heat pump could cut heating costs in cold climates

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July 9, 2010

Students, Frederick Welck and Christian Bach, work with an experimental setup for testing ...

Students, Frederick Welck and Christian Bach, work with an experimental setup for testing valves as part of research led by Purdue University to develop more efficient heat pumps (Image: Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

Heat pumps provide heating in winter and cooling in summer. While they’re OK for moderate climates, they are not efficient in extreme cold climates. Building on work that began five years ago, researchers at Purdue University are developing a new type of heat pump that is much more efficient and could allow residents in cold climates to cut their heating bills in half.

The innovation aims to improve efficiency in general but is especially practical for boosting performance in cold climates. The new heat pumps might be half as expensive to operate as heating technologies now used in cold regions where natural gas is unavailable and residents rely on electric heaters and liquid propane.

"We'll be able to extend the geographical range where heat pumps can apply," said W. Travis Horton, an assistant professor of civil engineering. "So this could open up a whole new market."

The vapor-compression cycle of standard heat pumps has four stages: refrigerant is compressed as a vapor, condenses into a liquid, expands to a mixture of liquid and vapor, and then evaporates. The new technology works by modifying the conventional vapor-compression cycle behind standard air conditioning and refrigeration.

"This could be a relatively simple modification to existing heat pumps, refrigeration and air conditioning systems," said James Braun, a professor of mechanical engineering.

Cooling approaches

Work to develop the new heat pump will investigate two cooling approaches. during the compression process. In one approach, relatively large amounts of oil are injected into the compressor to absorb heat generated throughout the compression stage. In the second approach, a mixture of liquid and vapor refrigerant from the expansion stage is injected at various points during compression to provide cooling. The added steps improve the compression process while also reducing energy losses due to friction in the expansion stage.

"Cooling the compressor keeps the refrigerant dense, and that's important because it takes less energy to compress something that's more dense," said Braun.

The researchers are developing a system for precisely controlling the flow of refrigerant from the evaporation stage into the compression stage using a series of small valves. A critical component of the new heat pump is a "scroll compressor," which uses a rotating, scroll-shaped mechanism to compress refrigerant. Domestic heat pumps normally use reciprocating compressors, in which a piston compresses refrigerant.

"You can't inject a liquid into a reciprocating compressor, whereas you can with a scroll compressor, which is uniquely suited for this modification," said Eckhard Groll, a professor of mechanical engineering. "Also, an important part of our project will be to determine the efficiency of a machine that pumps liquid while also compressing gas, so there will be a lot of computational modeling involved."

Prototype development

Researchers expect to complete a prototype by the end of the three-year, US$1.3 million project. The research, which also involves three doctoral students, is a partnership with Emerson Climate Technologies Inc. and Carrier Corp. Emerson will work with researchers to create the prototype heat pump, and Carrier will integrate the new heat pump into a complete system.

"With this technology we can maintain the efficiency of the heat pump even when it gets pretty cold outside," said Groll.

Two research papers about the work will be presented during the 13th International Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Conference, the 20th International Compressor Engineering Conference and the first International High Performance Buildings Conference from July 12-15 at Purdue.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
3 Comments

"Domestic heat pumps normally use reciprocating compressors, in which a piston compresses refrigerant." . False. The standard has been scroll compressors for many years.

kraftzion
10th July, 2010 @ 06:36 pm PDT

American heat pump technology is probably behind the times. We are using Japanese technology inverter driven modulating scroll compressors which are very happy in minus winter conditions and will operate if need be down to -25C. We have been installing these for 18 months now and they have operating very nicely through the recently cold British winter. Paul Fletcher.

Paul Fletcher CEO www.e-si.com
11th July, 2010 @ 06:38 am PDT

It appears to be an air source heat pump. The key techs for ASHP includes: heat exchanging device tech (compressors, evaporators, condensers, etc), control tech, refrigerant tech, unit design tech and so on. As far as I know, this brand do well on the whole heat pump system: "Wave Heat Pump". http://www.waveheatpump.com air-water heat pumps and heat pump water heaters are their focus.

air-water heat pump
29th November, 2010 @ 11:28 pm PST
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