‘Supercharger’ Makes Heat Pumps Viable for Cold Climes

October 20, 2014 By Linda Hardesty

DOEThe US Department of Energy says up until now, heat pumps have only been popular in more mild, Southern regions, and have failed to gain traction in cold climates. This is because as air temperatures drop, air source heat pump performance suffers.

However, the DOE has been working with Mechanical Solutions (MSI), a small business in New Jersey, on a Supercharger that allows heat pumps to efficiently operate in the coldest US climates, with zero backup heat.

Heat pumps falter in cold weather because the current compressor technology cannot withstand the strain of cooler temperatures. The cool air causes the refrigerant to get thinner; the compressor then tries to process the thinner refrigerant, but eventually the compressor either overheats or is not able to rotate fast enough to keep up.

Through a Small Business Innovation Research award, Mechanical Solutions designed and developed a Supercharger, which works as an add-on, or a pre-compressor, to existing heat pumps. The two technologies are connected in series, and they operate in unison—the Supercharger automatically boosts the refrigerant’s pressure and temperature so that, by the time the refrigerant gets to the primary compressor, that compressor has no idea that the refrigerant originally suffered from cold weather. By pre-compressing the refrigerant, the Supercharger allows the traditional compressor to operate effectively at any temperature.

Mechanical Solutions will complete system-level testing in 2015, at which point the technology will be available for licensing to compressor manufacturers.

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