Heat pump
Published:2014-12-10 17:05:56    Text Size:【BIG】【MEDIUM】【SMALL

A heat pump is a device that provides heat energy from a source of heat or "heat sink" to a destination. Heat pumps are designed to move thermal energy opposite to the direction of spontaneous heat flow by absorbing heat from a cold space and releasing it to a warmer one. A heat pump uses some amount of external power to accomplish the work of transferring energy from the heat source to the heat sink.

While air conditioners and freezers are familiar examples of heat pumps, the term "heat pump" is more general and applies to many HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) devices used for space heating or space cooling. When a heat pump is used for heating, it employs the same basic refrigeration-type cycle used by an air conditioner or a refrigerator, but in the opposite direction - releasing heat into the conditioned space rather than the surrounding environment. In this use, heat pumps generally draw heat from the cooler external air or from the ground. In heating mode, heat pumps are three to four times more efficient in their use of electric power, than are simple electrical resistance heaters.

In heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) applications, the term heat pump usually refers to easily reversible vapor-compression refrigeration devices optimized for high efficiency in both directions of thermal energy transfer.

Heat spontaneously flows from warmer places to colder spaces. A heat pump can absorb heat from a cold space and release it to a warmer one. "Heat" is not conserved in this process, which requires some amount of external high grade (low-entropy) energy, such as electricity.

Heat pumps are used to provide heating because less high-grade energy is required for their operation than appears in the released heat. Most of the energy for heating comes from the external environment, and only a fraction comes from electricity (or some other high-grade energy source required to run a compressor). In electrically powered heat pumps, the heat transferred can be three or four times larger than the electrical power consumed, giving the system a coefficient of performance (COP) of 3 or 4, as opposed to a COP of 1 for a conventional electrical resistance heater, in which all heat is produced from input electrical energy.

Heat pumps use a refrigerant as an intermediate fluid to absorb heat where it vaporizes, in the evaporator, and then to release heat where the refrigerant condenses, in the condenser. The refrigerant flows through insulated pipes between the evaporator and the condenser, allowing for efficient thermal energy transfer at relatively long distances.

Reversible heat pumps work in either thermal direction to provide heating or cooling to the internal space. They employ a reversing valve to reverse the flow of refrigerant from the compressor through the condenser and evaporation coils.

  • In heating mode, the outdoor coil is an evaporator, while the indoor is a condenser. The refrigerant flowing from the evaporator (outdoor coil) carries the thermal energy from outside air (or soil) indoors, after the fluid's temperature has been augmented by compressing it. The indoor coil then transfers thermal energy (including energy from the compression) to the indoor air, which is then moved around the inside of the building by an air handler. Alternatively, thermal energy is transferred to water, which is then used to heat the building via radiators or underfloor heating. The heated water may also be used fordomestic hot water consumption. The refrigerant is then allowed to expand, cool, and absorb heat to reheat to the outdoor temperature in the outside evaporator, and the cycle repeats. This is a standard refrigeration cycle, save that the "cold" side of the refrigerator (the evaporator coil) is positioned so it is outdoors where the environment is colder. In cold weather the outdoor unit is defrosted by briefly switching to the cooling mode. This will cause the auxiliary or Emergency heat strips (elements located in the air-handler) to activate and at the same time the frost will remove quickly because the coil will get hot. The condenser/evaporator fan will not run.
  • In cooling mode the cycle is similar, but the outdoor coil is now the condenser and the indoor coil (which reaches a lower temperature) is the evaporator. This is the familiar mode in which air conditioners operate.

Mechanical heat pumps exploit the physical properties of a volatile evaporating and condensing fluid known as a refrigerant. The heat pump compresses the refrigerant to make it hotter on the side to be warmed, and releases the pressure at the side where heat is absorbed.

The working fluid, in its gaseous state, is pressurized and circulated through the system by a compressor. On the discharge side of the compressor, now hot and highly pressurized vapor is cooled in a heat exchanger, called acondenser, until it condenses into a high pressure, moderate temperature liquid. The condensed refrigerant then passes through a pressure-lowering device also called a metering device. This may be an expansion valve,capillary tube, or possibly a work-extracting device such as a turbine. The low pressure liquid refrigerant then enters another heat exchanger, the evaporator, in which the fluid absorbs heat and boils. The refrigerant then returns to the compressor and the cycle is repeated.

It is essential that the refrigerant reaches a sufficiently high temperature, when compressed, to release heat through the "hot" heat exchanger (the condenser). Similarly, the fluid must reach a sufficiently low temperature when allowed to expand, or else heat cannot flow from the ambient cold region into the fluid in the cold heat exchanger (the evaporator). In particular, the pressure difference must be great enough for the fluid to condense at the hot side and still evaporate in the lower pressure region at the cold side. The greater the temperature difference, the greater the required pressure difference, and consequently the more energy needed to compress the fluid. Thus, as with all heat pumps, thecoefficient of performance (amount of thermal energy moved per unit of input work required) decreases with increasing temperature difference.

Insulation is used to reduce the work and energy required to achieve a low enough temperature in the space to be cooled.

To operate in different temperature conditions, different refrigerants are available. Refrigerators, air conditioners, and some heating systems are common applications that use this technology.

Heat transport

Heat is typically transported through engineered heating or cooling systems by using a flowing gas or liquid. Air is sometimes used, but quickly becomes impractical under many circumstances because it requires large ducts to transfer relatively small amounts of heat. In systems using refrigerant, this working fluid can also be used to transport heat a considerable distance, though this can become impractical because of increased risk of expensive refrigerant leakage. When large amounts of heat are to be transported, water is typically used, often supplemented with antifreeze, corrosion inhibitors, and other additives.

Heat sources/sinks

A common source or sink for heat in smaller installations is the outside air, as used by an air-source heat pump. A fan is needed to improve heat exchange efficiency.

Larger installations handling more heat, or in tight physical spaces, often use water-source heat pumps. The heat is sourced or rejected in water flow, which can carry much larger amounts of heat through a given pipe or duct cross-section than air flow can carry. The water may be heated at a remote location byboilers, solar energy, or other means. Alternatively when needed, the water may be cooled by using a cooling tower, or discharged into a large body of water, such as a lake or stream.

Geothermal heat pumps or ground-source heat pumps use shallow underground heat exchangers as a heat source or sink, and water as the heat transport medium. This is possible because below ground level, the temperature is relatively constant across the seasons, and the earth can provide or absorb a large amount of heat. Ground source heat pumps work in the same way as air-source heat pumps, but exchange heat with the ground via water pumped through pipes in the ground. Ground source heat pumps are more simple and therefore more reliable than air source heat pumps as they do not need fan or defrosting systems and can be housed inside. Although a ground heat exchanger requires a higher initial capital cost, the annual running costs are lower, because well-designed ground source heat pump systems operate more efficiently.

Heat pump installations may be installed alongside an auxiliary conventional heat source such as electrical resistance heaters, or oil or gas combustion. The auxiliary source is installed to meet peak heating loads, or to provide a back-up system.

Until the 1990s, the refrigerants were often chlorofluorocarbons such as R-12 (dichlorodifluoromethane), one in a class of several refrigerants using the brand name Freon, a trademark of DuPont. Its manufacture was discontinued in 1995 because of the damage that CFCs cause to the ozone layer if released into theatmosphere.

One widely adopted replacement refrigerant is the hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) known as R-134a (1,1,1,2-tetrafluoroethane). Heat pumps using R-134a are not as efficient as those using R-12 that they replace (in automotive applications) and therefore, more energy is required to operate systems utilizing R-134a than those using R-12. Other substances such as liquid R-717 ammonia are widely used in large-scale systems, or occasionally the less corrosive but more flammablepropane or butane, can also be used.

Since 2001, carbon dioxide, R-744, has increasingly been used, utilizing the transcritical cycle, although it requires much higher working pressures. In residential and commercial applications, the hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) R-22 is still widely used, however, HFC R-410A does not deplete the ozone layer and is being used more frequently. Hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, or plain air is used in the Stirling cycle, providing the maximum number of options in environmentally friendly gases.

More recent refrigerators use R600A which is isobutane, and does not deplete the ozone and is friendly to the environment.

Dimethyl ether (DME) is also gaining popularity as a refrigerant.


The two main types of heat pumps are compression and absorption. Compression heat pumps operate on mechanical energy (typically driven by electricity), while absorption heat pumps may also run on heat as an energy source (from electricity or burnable fuels). An absorption heat pump may be fueled by natural gas orLP gas, for example. While the gas utilization efficiency in such a device, which is the ratio of the energy supplied to the energy consumed, may average only 1.5, that is better than a natural gas or LP gas furnace, which can only approach 1.

Heat pumps are only highly efficient when they generate heat at a low temperature differential, ideally around or below 32 °C (90 °F). Normal steel plate radiators are not practical, because they would need to be four to six times their current size. Underfloor heating is one ideal solution. When wooden floors or carpets would spoil efficiency, wall heaters (plastic pipes covered with a thick layer of chalk) and piped ceilings can be used. These systems have the disadvantage that they are slow starters, and that they would require extensive renovation in existing buildings.

The alternative is a warm air system. Such a setup can either complement slower floor heating during warm up, or it can be a quick and economical way to implement a heat pump system into existing buildings. Oversizing the fans and ductwork can reduce the acoustic noise they produce. To efficiently distribute warm water or air from a heat pump, water pipes or air shafts must have significantly larger diameters than in conventional, hotter-source systems, and underfloor heaters should have much more pipes per square meter.


By definition, all heat sources for a heat pump must be colder in temperature than the space to be heated. Most commonly, heat pumps draw heat from the air (outside or inside air) or from the ground (groundwater or soil).

The heat drawn from ground-sourced systems is in most cases stored solar heat, and it should not be confused with direct geothermal heating, though the latter will contribute in some small measure to all heat in the ground. True geothermal heat, when used for heating, requires a circulation pump but no heat pump, since for this technology the ground temperature is higher than that of the space that is to be heated, so the technology relies only upon simple heat convection.

Other heat sources for heat pumps include water; nearby streams and other natural water bodies have been used, and sometimes domestic waste water (via drain water heat recovery) which is often warmer than cold winter ambient temperatures (though still of lower temperature than the space to be heated).

A number of sources have been used for the heat source for heating private and communal buildings.

Copyright(C) Hongkong Ming-pur Commerce Co., Limited