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Heat Pumps and Natural Refrigerants

Updated: Oct 28, 2022

Dr Martin Belusko on Heat Pumps as a Decarbonisation Technology


Heat pumps have a long history helping humanity do work. As early as 1856 heat pumps were being used to dry salt in salt marshes in Austria. Heat pumps are becoming the primary technology providing heating for buildings and industry.

Today heat pumps charged with natural refrigerants are known as leading decarbonisation technologies. We’ve shrugged off the shackles of synthetic refrigerants and their associated climate risks, and proved the efficiency and safety of carbon dioxide as a refrigerant. So how is it we are only now able to properly unlock their potential? And if they’re so good, why isn’t everyone installing them?


"If they're so good, why isn't everyone installing them?"


To answer these questions, we have to look beyond the heat pump itself, and understand the role it is increasingly playing in the manufacturing process or built environment. If you wanted to heat an industrial process in the last century and a half, somewhere in your supply chain were fossil fuels. For many, these fuels were traditionally shoveled coal, heating oil and over the past few decades piped as gas into boilers. A heat pump uses a refrigeration system in reverse, which uses electricity. ‘Electrification of heat’, one of the most commonly used terms in decarbonisation circles, has in reality as a practice been around a very long time, and refers to using a heat pump for heating purposes using renewable electricity as its source. However gas boilers tend to be significantly oversized and trying to replace it with a heat pump on a like for like basis is significantly cost prohibitive.

The other issue is we get used to what we know, or what’s easy. Over the last 50 years we have designed our system around the characteristics of gas. Steam boilers and distribution systems work. Shifting to heat pumps requires a whole of system rethink. Understanding your heating together with your cooling requirements in the context of your production process is what is required. Of all the projects we are asked to work on at Mondial, these are the ones that require the most careful planning, modelling and expertise.


""The easy solution is too expensive, and the economic solution is complex"


The CAPEX of heat pumps is related to their capacity. Smoothing out heating needs is critical to reducing this cost. Furthermore, if both the heating produced and the cooling produced can be used, this maximises the energy saved. This is why isn’t everyone isn't doing it? The easy solution is too expensive and the economic solution is complex. However, avoiding the problem is not a solution.

Natural gas prices in Australia are now at ‘tipping point’ levels. It’s now easier than ever to commercially justify decoupling from gas, and indeed this is driving many to begin making the transition. Complexity is being ‘ironed out’ with new technologies and systems arriving on the market every day. Mondial Advisory can help you get busy ‘doing the doing’ of decarbonisation, making complex easy.

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