Heat Pumps

Heat Pumps Explained

What's on this page:

What Are They?

A heat pump is a machine that can take heat from one place and then deliver that heat to another place at a higher temperature.

This heat can be extracted from:

  • Ground
  • Water
  • Air

Your home refrigerator operates using the same principle - it just draws the heat from the contents of your refrigerator and dispatches that heat through the heat exchanger (the grill) at the rear of the refrigerator.

The efficiency of all heat-pumps (ground, water and air) far exceeds that of traditional heating systems. For example, for every dollar you spend on heating using HP's you get the equivalent of 3 dollars or more of heating back.

The home refrigerator again is a good example of the efficiency of these systems in transferring heat (keeping the contents cold) at very low running costs (and don't forget, your refrigerator is on 24 - 7). 


What Extracts The Heat From The Ground - Water - Air?

The key ingredient for extracting the thermal energy heat from the ground, water, or air, as with your refrigerator, is the 'refrigerant' in the heat exchange captors (the coils).

Because chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), along with other chlorine and bromine containing compounds, have been implicated in the accelerated depletion of ozone in our Earth's stratosphere (which isn't good) new refrigerants have been introduced such as R407C, R134a and R410A.

For refrigeration applications, R404A is preferred because it has a better low temperature efficiency and lower discharge temperatures, but in ground source heat pumps and air conditioning, R407C has a better efficiency characteristic.

This refrigerant will vaporise into gas at a boiling point far lower than 100oC that water takes to boil (at sea level).


How Does The Heat Exchange Process Work?

Cold liquid refrigerant passes through a heat exchanger (evaporator) absorbs the heat from its surroundings and evaporates into gas. The gas is then compressed raising it to a higher temperature.

This hot gas then passes through a second heat exchanger (condenser) and gives up its heat to the surrounding atmosphere (a water or air heating circuit) before it is condensed into liquid.

The condensed refrigerant liquid still at high pressure and still hot, is then forced through an expansion valve which causes it to rapidly cool through evaporation. The now cool refrigerant liquid is ready to absorb more heat from the evaporator causing the liquid refrigerant to evaporate into gas.

Refrigerants typically evaporate at around -2oC so are able to collect heat in the winter. This process is controlled by an evaporator, a compressor, a condenser and an expansion valve.

(see graphic below).

Heat exchange processHeat exchange process

Heat transfered to houseHeat transfered to house

More on the different types of heat-pumps below:

Clean Technology 2008: Bio Energy, Renewables, Green Building, Smart Grid, Storage, and WaterKicking the Carbon Habit: Global Warming and the Case for Renewable and Nuclear Energy


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