U.S.-based manufacturer Copeland has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to support a US$2.5 million (€2.3 million) research project to develop “innovative heat pump technology” for propane-based HVAC systems.
The grant funds the research and development of a “modular, plug-and-play, load-flexible heat pump with low-cost thermal energy storage (TES) for space conditioning and water heating,” according to a Copeland statement.
“The research and development proposal is with R290 (propane) as the refrigerant for the heat pump,” said Copeland in response to an inquiry. Currently, residential R290 heat pumps and air-conditioning units do not exist in the U.S. market.
“The grant we’ve received from the Department of Energy will play a critical role in advancing the future of heat pump technology, reducing both consumer costs and energy consumption,” said Rajan Rajendran, Global Vice President of Environmental Sustainability at Copeland.
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm presented the award to Copeland at its facility in Sidney, Ohio, after which she and her colleagues toured the research lab. The lab “showcased the latest innovations in heat pump technology and the next generation of sustainable heating, air conditioning and refrigeration products,” said Copeland.
“We are thankful for the Secretary’s visit to see firsthand the innovations happening here in the region – heat pumps and beyond – that are vital to advancing sustainable climate technologies across the globe,” said Rajendran.
“I am so proud to be able to celebrate the innovation here in Sidney, as well as Copeland’s role in helping us address the existential crisis of our time, which is climate change,” said Granholm during her visit.
Challenging charge limits
Although R290 heat pumps are taking off in Europe, the current U.S. regulations limit the amount of R290 in fixed and non-fixed units to 114g (0.3lb), making the use of propane as a sustainable refrigerant challenging in the U.S. residential HVAC market.
In May 2022, the International Electrotechnical Committee (IEC) set a new global standard, IEC 60335-2-40 ED7, allowing up to 988g (2.18[JH2] lbs) of R290 in a (fixed) split AC unit and 304g (0.7lbs) in a non-fixed unit.
Christina Starr, Senior Manager of Climate Campaigns at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), addressed the R290 HVAC charge limits in a presentation at the ATMOsphere (ATMO) America Summit 2023 and called on manufacturers, end users and other industry stakeholders to get involved in the committees overseeing work to raise the limits. “We need to see committees forming to advance this discussion,” she said.
Starr noted that the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is presently discussing the hydrocarbon charge limits of indirect outdoor monobloc residential air-conditioning and heat pump systems under its ASHRAE 15 standard.
Copeland is a 100-year-old HVAC brand that recently became a stand-alone company. The company manufactures compressors, heat pumps, controls, valves and other technologies for residential, commercial and industrial applications, including those using natural refrigerants like CO2 (R744), ammonia (R717) and propane.
At the German 2022 Chillventa trade show, former company owner Emerson showcased four models of Copeland’s R290 scroll compressors designed for use in heat pumps.
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“The grant we’ve received from the Department of Energy will play a critical role in advancing the future of heat pump technology, reducing both consumer costs and energy consumption.”Rajan Rajendran, Global Vice President of Environmental Sustainability at Copeland