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Europe // Technology

Home Propane Heat Pumps Take Off at ISH Capitalizing on the rising cost of HFCs, a bevy of OEMs introduce R290 units at the German trade show

― By Andrew Williams & Charlotte McLaughlin Frankfurt-based ISH: the Bathroom Experience, Building, Energy, Air-Conditioning Technology and Renewable Energies trade show


held March 11-15 in Frankfurt, Germany, where a slew of companies launched new R290-based heat pumps targeting the residential market.

heat pumps are well established, CO 2 tends to be used, providing the high temperatures required for the hot baths favored in Japanese culture. But R290 heat pumps face a number of challenges as well. First, manufacturers are turning to R32 – an HFC with a GWP of 675 – in a big way. Economies of scale are driving down the initial purchase price of R32 units, and most homeowners consider cost to be a decisive factor in purchasing the equipment.

But as HFCs continue to be regulated in Europe and around the globe, the market potential for heat pumps using propane to replace f-gases is huge.

Propane has a good coefficient of performance (COP) compared to other refrigerants commonly used in heat pumps, which helps keep propane charges 40%-60% lower than average. In Europe, the charge limit for R290 heat pumps are generally 1 kg in a direct indoor system (depending upon room size) and 5 kg outside or in a special enclosure. Small, self-contained heat pumps limit charge size to 0.3 kg. Capacities range from 4 kW (1.1 TR) for small, self-contained units to 50 kw (14.2 TR) for space/hot water domestic heat pumps.

This potential was reflected at this year’s ISH: the Bathroom Experience, Building, Energy, Air-Conditioning Technology and Renewable Energies trade show,

Europe is a particularly promising market, because propane performs well in providing space heating for mild climates. In Japan, where residential

ver 10.5 million heat pumps provide heating and sanitary hot water in Europe in domestic and commercial applications today, reports the European Heat Pump Association. Of those, an estimated 200,000 220,000 heat pumps – about 2% of the installed base – use propane (R290) as the refrigerant, mostly for domestic applications, according to shecco, publisher of Accelerate Magazine. Most of the rest use HFCs, with some employing ammonia or CO 2 .

Accelerate Magazine // June 2019

Moreover, according to a report written for the EU-funded LIFE FRONT project, standards limiting refrigerant charge sizes and a lack of trained technicians are slowing down the uptake in Europe of hydrocarbon-based refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pumps. Yet policy can also help facilitate the market. The latest EU F-Gas Regulation – in force since 2015 – aims to reduce

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