Driven by the revised EU F-gas Regulation and the rollout of the RePowerEU program, heat pump sales across Europe, including many with natural refrigerants, have increased by 39% over the past year, with France, Italy and Poland showing very high sales growth. This upward trend is only tempered by the supply chain’s limitations on component production.

Those results were reported by Menno van der Hoff, Chief Executive Director of Triple Aqua Consulting, during a presentation at ATMOsphere (ATMO) Europe 2023 in a panel on the commercialization of natural refrigerant-based heat pumps. The conference took place in Brussels September 8–9 and was organized by ATMOsphere, publisher of Hydrocarbons21.com.

“Natural refrigerants entered the [European] heat pump market in 2023 widely and will be mature technology by 2027,” he said.

The role of the F-gas Regulation is a focal point. “The importance of clear regulations brings certainty to the market, enabling consumers and businesses to make informed decisions,” said van der Hoff.

He provided insights into the significant developments in compressor technology, especially for hydrocarbons and CO2 (R744). “While there is a limitation for hydrocarbon compressors due to safety-related 5kg (11lbs) charge limit, all the necessary components are available and prepared for use.” CO2 as a refrigerant and scroll compressors “have proven a successful pairing, particularly within the medium-capacity range,” he said. “It’s gratifying to see such compatibility in action.”

“Today, we stand at a technological frontier with over 50 brands delivering mature heat pump solutions employing propane (R290) and CO2, van der Hoff added. “The array of compressors now available for these systems shows a wide spectrum of capacities and sizes, showcasing our ability to fulfill the diversity of the market with precision.”

But simplicity remains key. “We must design intuitive systems for users transitioning from f-gas models to ensure smooth adoption,” van der Hoff said.

Reflecting on the industry’s future, Van der Hoff shared insights from a poll he conducted, indicating a growing preference for CO2 heat pumps and the superior efficiency of propane.

“Propane gives you a much better total equivalent warming impact [TEWI] and SCOP efficiency compared to R32,” van der Hoff said. 

He recently posted on LinkedIn about his personal Viessmann Monoblock R290 heat pump installed in his home in Italy. Over the first 11 months of 2023, the 13kW (3.7TR) unit achieved an average SCOP of 4.0. “Without any doubt better than using gas. AND the boiler backup is off since last winter. Only using the heat pump!” van der Hoff wrote.

His company, TripleAqua, markets an air-to-water heat pump designed to provide heating, cooling and hot water for medium and large residential and commercial buildings. The second-generation of the TripleAqua heat pump, using CO2 as the refrigerant for the first time, was showcased by Czech manufacturer Sinop at Chillventa 2022 in Nuremberg, Germany.

The heat pump market is seeking ultra-high-temperature models capable of achieving over 100°C (212°F), previously unattainable through eco-friendly means. “The future is ultra-hot for heat pumps,” van der Hoff said. New hydrocarbon systems will serve that need. “With cascade systems using R600 and R601 in development, we’re on the cusp of a breakthrough set to mature by 2030,” he added.

District heating, a key solution for community-wide energy needs, also follows the shift to CO2. “With more companies involved and better technology, we’re seeing a trend toward using CO2 instead of ammonia,” said van der Hoff.

“Natural refrigerants entered the heat pump market in 2023 widely and will be mature technology by 2027.”

Menno van der Hoff, Chief Executive Director of Triple Aqua Consulting

Author Saroj Thapa