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Thermally driven heat pumps: the EHPA and EHI report

Thermally driven heat pumps: the EHPA and EHI report

In the report "Thermally driven heat pumps, how they work and why they matter” EHPA (European Heat Pumps Association) and EHI (European Heating Industry), i.e. two of the main European air conditioning associations, highlight how thermally driven heat pumps contribute already today to the EU energy and climate objectives in terms of reduction of CO2 emissions, primary energy needs and consequent economic savings. The wider adoption of this technology - together with the development of production and distribution of renewable gases - can be a key factor in the decarbonisation process and energy transition in view of the European and global 2050 goals.

What is a Thermally Driven Heat Pump

The thermally driven heat pump is defined in the Ecodesign and Energy Labeling Regulation (EU) 813/2013 and 811/2013 as a technology that uses heat or an internal combustion engine to drive the absorption process or the vapor compression cycle. This heat pump, in other words, uses energy to "pump" renewable heat (e.g. ambient heat) from a low-temperature level to a higher-temperature level, so it can be used to heat and produce domestic hot water for our homes. While a vapor compression heat pump uses electricity to drive the compressor's electric motor, a thermally driven heat pump uses heat to drive a "thermal" compressor. This heat can come from a gas burner which drives the thermodynamic cycle.

Thermally driven heat pumps represent a promising segment within the heat pump market. In fact, this technology is particularly suitable for heating and the production of domestic hot water in energy efficiency applications of existing buildings, by virtue of its compatibility with the majority of traditional emission systems (radiators and radiators). It immediately offers the possibility of obtaining the best energy efficiency compared to condensing boilers (up to 40% less consumption), allowing considerable economic savings and reduction of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere.

Key benefits of thermally driven heat pumps

The advantages of thermally driven heat pump technologies can be summarized in the following points:

  • They contribute significantly to the EU's energy and climate objectives:
    • reduction of CO2 emissions from 30 to 40% compared to traditional heating technologies; in case of use of renewable gases or mixes with such gases (such as biomethane or hydrogen), emissions can be further reduced;
    • reduction of primary energy requirements compared to traditional heating technologies up to 40%;
    • diversification of energy sources: they use gaseous fuel, widely diffused and distributed in Europe, and are compatible with a future fuel supply scenario with renewable gases, such as biomethane, methane/hydrogen mixtures and pure hydrogen.
  • They ensure excellent performance even at low external air temperatures and in areas with harsh climates, thanks to the thermodynamic cycle, which is very little influenced by the climatic conditions of use.
  • They maintain good performance with high heating flow temperatures: the ability to provide high heating flow temperatures allows this type of heat pump to be used directly with existing high temperature heating systems such as traditional radiators.
  • They use the current energy infrastructure (gas networks) without overloading the electricity infrastructure.

Market development of thermally driven heat pumps

Sales of thermally driven heat pumps are steadily increasing: at the end of 2020, in the commercial, industrial and residential market segments, more than 30,000 systems were in operation across Europe (estimate from a group of manufacturers).

The technology is spreading at a rapid pace thanks to the easy applicability of these appliances in replacing traditional gas boilers to make existing buildings more efficient.

Europe is the most active area in the development and production of this technology and currently several Italian and international companies are able to offer it in different sizes, models and fittings.

For example, the GAHP absorption heat pumps, designed, developed and manufactured in Italy by Robur, testify to an already accredited presence on the national and international markets (see pages 5 and 6 of the report for further information on this specific technology).

Furthermore, there are several projects by companies and research bodies currently in place to enhance and improve the technology, confirming its potential for development in medium and long-term scenarios.

The European Commission (Repower Eu) has proposed an ambitious target to reduce Europe's dependence on (Russian) gas: 30 million new hydronic heat pumps installed by 2030.