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Climate ChangeIn Europe’s Clean Energy Transition, Industry Turns to Heat Pumps

In Europe’s Clean Energy Transition, Industry Turns to Heat Pumps

The Wienerberger brickworks in Uttendorf, Austria, within the Tyrolean Alps, has at all times required a gentle stream of 90 degree C (194 degree F) heat to dry its construction blocks. This process would have been an expensive proposition for the corporate after Russia cut gas exports to Europe, because it was for many of Europe’s energy-intensive construction industry. But 4 years ago, Wienerberger — the biggest brick producer on the planet — made an investment in the long run that’s now paying off: it replaced Uttendorf’s gas-fired boiler with an industrial-scale heat pump, which whittles the factory’s energy bill by around 425,00 euros a yr.

For many years, electric heat pumps have been utilized in European homes and other buildings for heating and cooling, but they’ve never gained much traction in manufacturing, which has far higher energy demands for producing hot water and steam. And since fossil fuels had long been relatively low cost, industries had little incentive to exchange gas- and oil-powered systems with greener equipment. Now, with the event of warmth pumps that may deliver temperatures as much as 160 degrees C (320 degrees F) at a fraction of the value of gas boilers, and with gas prices skyrocketing as a consequence of the war in Ukraine, that calculus is being turned on its head. Many European businesses are rethinking their energy sources while also slashing their greenhouse gas emissions, an EU requirement. European industry is liable for greater than 1 / 4 of the bloc’s greenhouse gases.

Heat pumps are three to 5 times more efficient than gas boilers, in accordance with the International Energy Agency.

To satisfy its lofty energy goals and break its dependence on Russian gas, the EU is counting on nothing lower than a heat pump revolution. In lots of countries, sales of warmth pumps — primarily for residential use — doubled in the primary half of 2022. In Germany, Europe’s largest consumer of Russian gas, demand jumped 52 percent last yr, while growth across the EU in 2021 was 35 percent. Meanwhile, a somewhat less-heralded transition to heat pumps for manufacturing is gathering speed. Wienerberger, as an example, is now installing similar pumps at its brick foundries within the Netherlands, the U.K., Poland, Romania, and elsewhere in Austria.

“Five years ago most corporations knew next to nothing about heat pumps,” says Veronika Wilk, a senior research engineer on the Austrian Institute of Technology. “Now corporations are aware of them, and ever more heat pumps are installed in industry.”

A compression heat pump can each warm and funky air. Within the winter, it raises indoor temperatures by removing heat from water, from deep within the earth, or from outdoor air, then ratchets up its temperature using a small amount of electricity and moves that air indoors. Even air as cold as -12 degrees C (10 degrees F) comprises sufficient energy for a heat pump to extract and boost its temperature. In the summertime, electric heat pumps lower indoor temperatures by removing heat from interior air and shunting it outside. Absorption heat pumps run not with electricity but with a heat source, which could possibly be natural gas but may be solar-heated water and even waste heat from data centers or sewers. They create this heat as much as a “useful” temperature, then deliver it as either warm air or hot water.

Heat pumps use electricity to compress a refrigerant, raising its temperature.

Depending on which way the warmth is moving — indoors or out — the warmth pump’s pistons either compress or expand a fluid, causing it to heat up or cool down, respectively. Because heat pumps only move fluids around, they could be greater than twice as energy efficient as heaters that burn fuel.

Based on the International Energy Agency (IEA), heat pumps are three to 5 times more efficient than gas. And in the event that they’re run on solar, wind, hydropower, or waste heat, they haven’t any emissions in any respect.

Unlike residential heat pumps, whose outdoor components are in regards to the size of a washer, industrial versions — as large as a house — can make the most of wasted “process energy” from factories to hike water temperatures to greater than 190 degrees C (374 degrees F). On the Wienerberger factories, for instance, brick dryers devour immense amounts of energy, with the drying chamber releasing mainly water vapor. That is condensed into hot water. The warmth pumps then jack up its temperature from about 40 degrees C to around 90 degrees C, and return it to the drying process. Because the power source for the warmth pump is the waste heat itself, this sequence consumes nearly 80 percent less energy than when the plant ran on gas.

The EU sees the buildout of warmth pumps as crucial to its goal of slashing greenhouse gas emissions.

“The system is a closed loop,” says Johannes Rath, Wienerberger’s chief technology officer. “Because we start with higher temperatures, we get higher temperatures” than those produced by residential pumps.

Prototype heat pumps made in Norway already operate at around 180 degrees C, and experts expect engineers inside a decade to design technology that reaches temperatures of beyond 200 degrees C. This advance would open ever more processes within the energy-intensive chemical, paper, food, and refinery sectors to heat pump technology.

These kinds of professional quality heat pumps are actually getting used in hotels, restaurants, confectionaries, warehouses, swimming pools, greenhouses, chemical manufacturing, and within the drying of materials like paper and starch. Absorption heat pumps are especially suited to facilities that use each heating and cooling.

The Finnish company Kiilto, for instance, manufactures chemicals, like glues, for the development sector. Its Lempäälä plant now uses a hybrid industrial heat pump to recuperate heat from on-site electric cooling processes, in addition to from a close-by geothermal source, to lift temperatures as much as 75 degrees C.

An industrial heat pump at the Mars Confectionery in Veghel, the Netherlands.

An industrial heat pump on the Mars Confectionery in Veghel, the Netherlands.

On the Mars Wrigley Confectionery within the Netherlands, the biggest chocolate factory on the planet, heat pump extracts and boosts otherwise unusable exhaust heat from its refrigeration units, producing water as hot as 63 degrees C. The water is channeled through the factory’s piping network to maintain chocolate and syrup warm. The technology has lowered the factory’s energy bill by 6 percent and has saved the plant about 26 terajoules in gas — such as the quantity of energy consumed by 625 European households. A second heat pump heats water for cleansing to 80 degrees C, delivering an extra saving of 12.25 terajoules.

Water is one other viable source of warmth. Inntal Nursery in Bavaria, Germany uses groundwater from wells near the Inn River and a single water-to-air heat pump in regards to the size of a Sherman tank to heat 30,000 square meters of greenhouses yr round. The water is drawn into the warmth pump, boosted to 35 degrees C, sent through the underfloor heating system, then cooled and returned to the river.

A recent convert is the German chemical giant BASF, which has hired MAN, a German engineering company known for its trucks and buses, to construct the world’s largest heat pump at BASF’s Ludwigshafen site, in western Germany. The system, the scale of a standard power plant, will exploit the waste heat of cooling processes to provide 150 tons of steam per hour, thus stopping an estimated 390,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually from reaching the atmosphere.

A German think tank estimates a widespread conversion to heat pumps could cut EU gas use by 32 percent in five years.

Along with the advantages of a more efficient operation, corporations with low carbon processes also can bring down the fee of their CO2 emissions, for which they’re billed per ton through the European Union’s Emission Trading System. At about 85 euros per metric ton of carbon dioxide — last December’s price — the savings are significant.

The EU sees the buildout of warmth pumps, each for industrial and non-industrial buildings, as crucial to its goal of slashing greenhouse gas emissions by at the least 55 percent before 2030. Its REPowerEU initiative goals to expedite the substitute of as many as a 3rd of the 150 million thermal boilers currently in use with heat pumps. An increasing variety of large-scale heat pumps will supply either steam or hot water to district heat networks, as is currently done across Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Writing climate-friendly constructing codes, using recycled material in constructing construction, installing state-of-the art insulation, and ramping up energy conservation could further boost energy savings.

The German think tank Agora Energiewende estimates that a widespread conversion to residential and industrial heat pumps, combined with efficiency measures, could cut EU natural gas use by 32 percent in five years. Along with increased liquid natural gas supply, this might completely obviate Europe’s need for Russian gas. And as advances in industrial-scale technology enable heat pumps to succeed in temperatures of 500 degrees C (932 degrees F) within the near future, the think tank predicts, electricity may supplant gas much more broadly.

2020-2021 heat pump sales growth rates across several countries.

2020-2021 heat pump sales growth rates across several countries.

In a recently published paper, the International Energy Agency estimates that the EU could trim 60 billion euros off its gas imports if the bloc as an entire switched to heat pumps — for domestic, business, and industrial use. It contends that by 2050, heat pumps will meet a lot of the world’s heating and cooling needs.

EU and national incentives and subsidies are expected to speed up European industry’s transition. Wienerberger, the brickmaker, for instance, expects to pay 2.5 million euros to three million euros a bit for brand new compression pump systems across Europe, of which subsidies will cover 20 to 40 percent of the prices. They are going to run on electricity generated by solar panels.

As for america, which relies largely on fossil fuels for heating, one report shows that the expansion of domestic heat pumps in single-family homes could slash emissions by 142 million metric tons per yr, reducing energy sector emissions by 14 percent. For U.S. homeowners, a typical air-source heat pump runs between about $3,500 to $7,500. President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act provides subsidies and tax credits of as much as 30 percent of a domestic heat pump’s price (or more for low- and moderate-income households). The Act authorizes incentives for industrial facilities as well. But for a lot of within the U.S., the investment costs are still a serious obstacle, even with the subsidies.

In Europe, though, enthusiasm for this technology — in homes, business buildings, and industry — is conspicuous. In most places, there’s a year-long wait to have a heat pump installed.


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