Lowering costs and stabilising supply – the case for heat pumps


10 March 2022

Lee Hermitage, EMEA Marketing Director for Advanced Materials at Honeywell, explains why the energy crisis is beginning to make the case for heat pumps a no brainer and discusses how heat pump technology promises to help the UK’s manufacturers comply with emissions regulation and reduce their energy bills.  At the same time, he also explains what the Government needs to do to encourage greater consumer adoption.


There’s a bumpy road ahead for energy prices that is set to effect industry and domestic prices in the coming year.  Firstly, Ofgem made their announcement that the energy price cap was increasing to 54%, which will see bills increase for domestic use by just under £700 from April.  There is also the threat of supply as the West imposes sanctions on Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine.  With current uncertainty set to potentially push prices to record levels, it’s clear that we need to adapt and change our approach to energy supply.


Caught between a rock and a hard place – legislation on one side, rising energy prices on the other – the UK’s besieged manufacturing sector desperately needs a way to remain compliant while also substantially reducing its energy bills. One technology that has recently garnered headlines is the use of heat pumps; an energy recovery technology that reuses valuable heat energy that would otherwise be lost or wasted. For example, a heat pump can absorb excess heat produced in a manufacturing process and use it to provide space heating and hot water. The immediate benefits are obvious.


The need for heat

However, modern industrial heat pumps go further than that; they can boost the temperature of a waste-heat stream to an even greater level; high enough for use in a range of manufacturing processes. The potential market is huge – the need for heat is responsible for 70% of industrial energy demand, most of which is currently generated by gas.


And it’s not just waste energy from buildings and processes that can be recycled – renewable energy from the air, water or the ground can be utilised to provide heating and cooling. It’s therefore little wonder that the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) flagship report, “Net Zero by 2050”, states that heat pumps will be a cornerstone technology for displacing fossil fuel heating to achieve net zero CO2 emissions.


Importantly, heat pumps can be integrated with energy storage so that if there is no immediate use for the energy that has been recovered, it can be saved until it's next needed. Also, a high performance heat pump can achieve efficiencies of 500% or more, providing 5kW of heat energy for every 1kW of electricity; a new gas boiler operates at 90% efficiency. The numbers speak for themselves, heat pumps are an efficient way of generating heat.


Clawing back the costs

However, not all heat pumps are created equal. Current designs are mostly limited to outputting a heat supply of around 70°C to 80°C, but many industrial methods often require temperatures of between 100°C to 200°C, such as food processing, drug manufacturing, paper and board production, engineering, cement works and the plastics industry, amongst many others.


Last October, we announced a collaboration with UK-based company Futraheat, for a revolutionary heat pump technology that aims to help industry radically reduce its carbon emissions cost-effectively.

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The company’s TurboClaw® high temperature heat compressor, the heart of its heat pump design, uses Honeywell’s Solstice® zd (R-1233zd), a non-flammable, ultra-low-global-warming-potential (LGWP) refrigerant replacement for R-123, which has been phased out because of environmental concerns. Futraheat has already received a £500,000 grant from Innovate UK to build a 300 kilowatt TurboClaw demonstrator, which it anticipates trialling in early 2022 for waste heat recovery.

Its technology is unique and can deliver a substantial step-up in performance. Its enumerated benefits typically include an 80% cut in energy consumption, a 25% reduction in fuel bills, payback within three years and CO2-free heat when powered by renewable electricity.  Also, unlike other heat pump configurations, Futraheat’s design operates at greatly reduced speeds and is oil-free, yielding lower manufacturing, operating and maintenance costs.


Residential and district heating

With the case for greater industry adoption made, it’s time to focus on increasing domestic use too.  We have seen a push in the heat and building strategy from the government to promote heat pumps but it’s not nearly ambitious enough.  The Treasury will provide £450m to encourage the installation of electric heat pumps by homeowners over the next three years as part of Britain’s efforts to hit its 2050 Net Zero targets.  It amounts to a £5000 grant, awarded to 90,000 households over three years, that’s just 30,000 a year.  In our view this is an inadequate incentive to shift use away from gas boilers which heat more than 85% of homes.


More should be done to promote the adoption of heat pumps in district heating too.  There are already successes in Southwark Council, one in Sterling and there are many more examples whereby instead of the traditional thinking which is supplying a fuel source to an individual building, you’re looking at generating hot water, which is then passed around several buildings from a central system and that offers a number of benefits. 


Firstly, security of supply is critical to most users and secondly heat pumps offer a much cheaper source of energy and more controlled levels of cost which is exactly what the consumers – whether they’re residential consumers or building owners – are looking to achieve. 


To really accelerate the uptake of heat pumps, government support is needed.  Currently, heat pumps are more expensive than gas boilers and when you’re a consumer, that’s likely to be the first concern.  However, heat pumps do generate an immediate return on investment and consumers will get a good payback, therefore governments must embrace more ambitious measures to incentivise or subsidise take up to offset some of the initial outlay. 


Achieving Net Zero

Waste heat recovery is set to become an important part of the UK’s move towards a low carbon economy – it’s already part of government policy. Its Industrial Heat Recovery Support (IHRS) programme, with a budget of £18m, aims to increase industry confidence to invest in technologies that recover heat from industrial processes.  Better still is the £1bn Net-Zero Innovation Strategy and Innovation Programme which provides funding for low-carbon innovative technologies and systems.  Decreasing the cost of decarbonisation, this funding will help enable the UK to end its contribution to climate change.


Heat pumps are already 85% renewable and so if we’re looking at decarbonisation strategies, more still needs to be done to encourage uptake in homes. In simple terms, the greenest energy is the energy that you don’t use, so if you’re preserving 85% of your energy with a heat pump, that’s a no brainer.  Government should therefore shift its focus onto heat pumps and incentivise more from a residential consumer perspective, and it must look at more opportunities for funding district heating schemes which would enable the adoption of heat pumps to happen more quickly.