Decarbonization - the key driver behind the rise of heat pumps

Decarbonization - the key driver behind the rise of heat pumps

While the initial interest in heat pumps was to save on operating costs, reducing emissions is now the main driver for the technology. Learn more about how GEA is spearheading efforts to reduce CO2 emissions through hidden champion heat pump technology at sites using them in traditional applications or district heating.

Heating – mostly produced from the combustion of fossil fuels – accounts for more than half of global energy consumption, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). If the ambitious targets set in the historic Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C compared to preindustrial levels are to be achieved, technologies like energy-efficient heat pumps will need to play a greater role. In turn, this will help create a better world for current and future generations.

Heat pumps – the sustainable choice

Heat pumps work much like a traditional refrigerator that instead of simply cooling and wasting excess heat can recover and upcycle that heat. This upcycling can significantly bring down heating costs and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. When applied at scale – particularly in the food and beverage industries – considerable financial and ecological advantages can be achieved. In other applications, communities benefit from district heating.

Think about how much heat is required for such a simple task as boiling water in a kettle. Traditional methods of heat generation (for example a gas boiler) use up to 10 times as much electricity as a modern heat pump. Now extrapolate that to a massive factory generating tons of processed food every day or several thousand homes and public buildings in a district heating network – suddenly the sheer potential is clear. In the case of a food processing factory, heat treatment and subsequent cooling must occur. This combination of maximizes the benefit of heat pump installations.

The high efficiency and low maintenance of heat pumps mean a short return on investment and extended benefits in their decades-long lifecycle. By replacing the burning of fossil fuels, CO2 emissions that are harmful to global climate – and NOx emissions that are harmful to the local environment – are almost completely negated.

GEA heat pump technologyies offer energy-saving advantages regardless of the industry and the extent of their use. In district heating schemes, they provide the base heat load and are also an adjustable heat source. Their rapid reaction time is a good match with large networks. They also have a protective effect on the electrical grid via smart energy systems that adjust loads according to requests from the electrical supplier. 


Natural refrigerants

GEA has also been able to act more environmentally consciously by using natural refrigerants such as ammonia. We have been working with natural refrigerants since 1910 when our first ammonia compressor was introduced. GEA customers are actively encouraged to adopt or switch to natural refrigerants if they are already using fluorinated greenhouse gas (F-gas) systems. F-Gases, due to their harmful nature, are unlikely to remain legal or available for even the medium term. Gases such as R22 and R404a are almost lost to history. 

Pumped up food and beverages processing 

The heat pump has come a long way since it was first used to dry salt mined from Austrian marshes in the 1850s. Nowadays, ammonia heat pumps have proven their value to decarbonize food, dairy and beverage industries as well as reduce operating costs.

• Mars, Inc., the world's leading manufacturer of chocolate, chewing gum, mints and fruity confections, has achieved energy and CO2 reduction with GEA’s heat pump solution at its facility in Veghel, Netherlands — one of the largest chocolate factories in the world. The heat pump installation reduces the chocolate factory’s carbon footprint and contributes to Mars’ sustainability goals. Read the full Mars Wrigley story.

Aurivo, Ireland’s second largest liquid milk processor, has cut carbon dioxide emissions at its Killygordon site by 80 percent, thanks to a multimillion-euro upgrade that includes new liquid processing systems and state-of-the-art, energy-saving refrigeration and heat pump systems from GEA. The successful project highlights the benefit of the GEA’s unique integrated processing and heating and cooling approach and has been awarded an Excellence in Energy Efficiency Design (EXEED) certification from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland

Interflour’s malting facility in southern Vietnam, has significantly reduced its energy consumption. A GEA heat pump upgrades the waste heat from the cooling plant and then channels it to heat the air required for kilning. Approximately 2,000 tons of CO2 per year is saved with this integrated solution. This enables Intermalt to operate in an environmentally responsible manner, while providing customers with high-quality malt at competitive price points.

Mars chocolate production facility

A GEA ammonia heat pump plant at Mars, Inc., helps the confectionery manufacturer reach its sustainability goals.

Warming up to district heating

Modern, efficient district heating system requires only a small input of (ideally renewable) electricity to raise heat from a wide range of sources, including the air, the ground, a factory, a subway network or a water treatment plant, to name just a few. This can then be boosted to temperatures of up to 95°C to supply heating or hot water or both directly to a neighborhood.

In Malmö, Sweden, four GEA 10 MW heat pumps operate next to a sewage treatment plant and a waste incinerator near the harbor. They now provide 8 percent of the total energy usage of approximately 100,000 homes, saving close to 50,000 tons of CO2 every year. They illustrate that although district heating works best in areas with a high population density, it is not a prerequisite. 

GEA’s heat pump technology has also been at the heart of a unique solution at the Bunhill Heat and Power Network project in central London. By reusing waste heat from the London Underground, a GEA heat pump solution helps supply greener and cheaper heating to 1,350 homes, a school and two leisure centers in Islington. More on Bunhill 2 Energy Centre.

Gateshead in northeast England
relies partially on natural heat captured from water in flooded disused coal mines. The water is boosted from 15°C up to 80°C using two 3 MW GEA ammonia heat pumps. The resulting hot water supplies heat to hundreds of homes and other public and private buildings in the area. 
GEA ammonia heat pump plant at Gateshead

A GEA ammonia heat pump plant at Gateshead uses natural heat from flooded disused coal mines.

Why switch to a heat pump?

  1. Lower energy consumption. Heat pump solutions, either combined with energy-efficient refrigeration systems or stand-alone, can improve heating performance significantly.
  2. Decrease operating costs. Replacing a fossil fuel based-heating system with a highly efficient heat pump will lower operating costs.
  3. Reduce the carbon footprint. A heat pump can help pave the way towards a zero-emission target by reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
  4. Meet sustainability goals. A heat pump solution is a future-proof investment, especially as regulations strive to phase out carbon-intensive technologies.
  5. Common sense. We all have excess heat, and it normally costs a lot to release. A heat pump raises captured heat to a useful temperature, avoiding the necessity to burn something to create the same effect.

'Heat to Cool' the warming planet

According to the IEA, if all countries were to fulfil the pledges they have made to reduce carbon, global heating would reach about 1.7°C above preindustrial temperatures.

But this relies on countries implementing policies rather than simply stating goals. These are the findings of a new report, The State of Climate Action 2023, compiled by six climate thinktanks that examined all aspects of climate policy from governments across the world. 

Although other recent studies have found a rapid acceleration of the uptake of green technology around the world, including the expansion of renewable energy, the report found few bright spots. The prospect of staying within 1.5°C will slip away altogether without drastic action, the authors warned.

One thing is sure: The targets to reduce emissions of all kinds are ambitious. GEA is proud to be pioneering heat pump technology that reduces energy use, cuts harmful emissions and supports the cooling down of our warming planet. It’s one of many ways we are engineering for a better world and working to meet our ambitious sustainability goals.

Receive news from GEA

Stay in touch with GEA innovations and stories by signing up for news from GEA.

Contact us

We are here to help! With just a few details we will be able to respond to your inquiry.