Hydrocarbon heat pumps 10-20% more efficient for the same costs - Jose M. Corberan exclusive interview

By Pilar Aleu, Sep 22, 2014, 10:40 4 minute reading

At the GL2014 conference, Jose M. Corberan from the Universidad Politecnica de Valencia chaired session D2 about Refrigerant Charge Reduction in Refrigerating Systems. hydrocarbons21.com sat down with him the day after to discuss the Next Generation Heat Pump project, market trends, and perspectives of growth for commercial hydrocarbon heat pumps in Europe and beyond.

hydrocarbons21.com: Can you tell us about your work on hydrocarbon heat pumps and your involvement in the Next Generation Heat Pump project?

J.M. Corberan: We have been working with hydrocarbons for many years and took the opportunity to apply for an EU funded project under the European Union’s 7th Framework Program for research. The Next Generation Heat Pump project aims to develop a set of prototype heat pumps, in addition to which we expect the project to help break down some of the barriers affecting natural refrigerant technology, and in particular support the market uptake of hydrocarbon heat pumps. We are working with both hydrocarbons and CO2 and we believe that commercial heat pumps represent one of the best application area for developing natural refrigerant technologies as quickly as possible.

hydrocarbons21.com: What efficiencies can be achieved using hydrocarbons in heat pumps and how does this compare to other refrigerants?

J.M. Corberan: Hydrocarbons, especially propane, are very efficient in heat pump systems compared to classic refrigerants such as R22 or R410A. Propane has very good thermophysical properties and can generate higher COPs than HFCs. This has been demonstrated in many studies and we think that with our prototypes we can reach a 10-20% higher efficiency for the same costs than for a unit using synthetic refrigerants.

hydrocarbons21.com: How do you manage the safety aspect of hydrocarbons heat pumps?

J.M. Corberan: We decided to work on commercial heat pump applications. We build small heat pump prototypes of 50kW for commercial buildings. These small sized units are usually installed outside, on the roof of the buildings. Our systems are designed to avoid leakages. We also make sure we comply with all relevant industry safety standards for this type of unit. I want to stress the fact that we have surveyed all the current relevant standards and we think that hydrocarbon heat pump technology is safe. With a slight cost increase you can safely install your heat pump in any other building location such as the machinery room.

hydrocarbons21.com: What are the main obstacles to the wider uptake of R290 heat pumps?

J.M. Corberan: For propane and hydrocarbons in general the main barrier is not technical. The problem is the reputation of the product and its flammability. People have been subject to scare stories in the media for years.

To overcome this we have to raise awareness of successful example of hydrocarbon technologies, such as in domestic appliances. Everybody has a refrigerator with a hydrocarbon (isobutane) at home and there have been no reported accidents in decades. In Europe, lots of kitchen appliances also work with natural gas or still with bottled butane.

When people are sufficiently informed and know what they are using, the misinformation barrier will disappear. The more we use hydrocarbons in commercial applications the quicker this will happen. From a technical point of view, industry standards are so strict and so thorough that they don't leave any room for error, so consumers should have no concerns regarding the risk of hydrocarbons refrigerants.

hydrocarbons21.com: How would you evaluate the potential market for propane heat pumps in Europe?

J.M. Corberan: This question was the basis of our EU project application. We think that the growth potential of this niche market in Europe is significant. The timing is also right because many commercial heating applications in Europe currently use air or water-to-water heat pumps while in the USA and Asia they mostly employ air-to-air heat pumps so that the competition from outside is not so strong. Once we achieve the best efficiencies with optimum safety results, we are sure that the technology will spread easily not only in Europe but also worldwide.

hydrocarbons21.com: How would you rate the level of awareness in the Mediterranean countries regarding natural refrigerant HVAC&R applications?

J.M. Corberan: The technology is not as well known outside Northern or Central Europe. However, I would say that the main barrier slowing the uptake of hydrocarbons systems in the Mediterranean countries is the current economic situation. Due to the crisis, decision makers are more concerned about the total price of investment. But this will eventually be overcome and the market for hydrocarbons will develop.

hydrocarbons21.com: How would you evaluate the market potential for natural refrigerant applications in general and in the Mediterranean countries in particular?

J.M. Corberan: The trend towards an increasing use on natural refrigerants will be global. We have to use natural refrigerants wherever and whenever possible and make it as easy as possible for end users to switch to this technology. This can be achieved in many applications. The bottom line is, if a market exists then production will develop to meet demand. I can't foresee any future opposition to natural refrigerants, in the Mediterranean countries, in Europe as a whole, or in the developing countries.

There is always a reaction to change. Industry does not want to change. But if the trend is supported by clear regulation, then industry will adapt. What the industry wants is a clear vision and to be sure that the regulation will not change every 5 years.

Thank you very much!


By Pilar Aleu

Sep 22, 2014, 10:40

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