WASHINGTON — Heat pumps have traditionally 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, essentially limiting heat pump year-round use to warmer climates. Working with Mechanical Solutions Inc. (MSI), a small business in New Jersey, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Building Technologies Office has found a potential solution: a “supercharger” that allows heat pumps to efficiently operate in the coldest U.S. climates, with zero backup heat.

Through a Small Business Innovation Research award, Mechanical Solutions designed and developed its supercharger, which will enable heat pumps to efficiently operate across the entire U.S. market. The supercharger 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 before it gets to the primary compressor. By pre-compressing the refrigerant, the supercharger allows the traditional compressor to operate effectively at any temperature. The concept is similar to superchargers for piston engine aircrafts, which must maintain effectiveness with cooler temperatures and “thinner” air at high altitudes.

According to DOE, this supercharger will allow heat pumps to gain traction across a large new segment of the country. It also benefits both manufacturers and consumers — manufacturers will have access to a wider market, and don’t have to change the type of refrigerant employed or the basic design of the compressor used in today’s marketplace. And families, now from all areas of the country, especially those where natural gas is hard to come by, will have an efficient, sole heating and cooling source for their home.

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

For more information on Mechanical Solutions supercharger, click here.

Publication date: 10/27/2014

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