future view

Next generation of heat pumps developed in collaboration with industry

28 March 2019 • 4 min reading time

Many industrial concerns use gas-fired systems because they need high temperature heat for their production processes. This generates a great deal of CO2 and residual heat. Together with the Smurfit Kappa packaging company and with IBK Airconditioning & Koudetechniek, ECN part of TNO has developed a new generation of heat pumps. These devices can make use of that residual heat. Powered by electricity, they can also upgrade this heat to produce steam for use in production processes.

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“Energy is a major expense in our paper process. Our company is constantly looking for ways to reduce its energy bill. Lower energy consumption also means reduced CO2 emissions. Together with ECN part of TNO and our supplier, IBK, we have developed a technologically innovative industrial heat pump that will cut our production costs. It will also reduce our CO2 footprint, which is in line with our sustainability aspirations and objectives. That’s a win-win situation”, says Henk Hoevers, Smurfit Kappa’s Vice President of Paper Production Technology.

"The cooperative venture with ECN part of TNO and Smurfit Kappa was such a great opportunity."

Unique product

For IBK, too, technological innovation and sustainability go hand in hand. Managing Director, Jan-Willem Voshol, explains; “We want our products to contribute to a healthy, green future. Also, if we are to maintain our competitive position, it is important that we continue to supply innovative products that have added value for our key markets. That’s why the cooperative venture with ECN part of TNO and Smurfit Kappa was a such a great opportunity for us. Together, we have created a unique product.”

Recycling residual heat

Making industrial heat management sustainable is a key focus area for ECN part of TNO. Companies in the chemical, refining, food and paper sectors, for example, use a great deal of heat, at temperatures up to 200°C. It is much more efficient – and cheaper – to replace gas-fired systems with heat pumps.

Jebin James, a heat expert at ECN part of TNO, explains; “We always try to involve end users and manufacturing industry at an early stage in the development and application of new technologies. In this case, the parties involved were Smurfit Kappa and IBK, both trailblazers in the area of sustainability. They have worked with us from the very beginning. Since then, we have involved additional parties in this development process. The goal was to find ways of harnessing heat pump technology to improve the energy efficiency of their processes.”

Big boost for energy efficiency

The heat required to generate the steam used to dry paper eventually ends up in humid air that is too cool to be directly recycled. Here, the heat pump can substantially reduce energy consumption. The underlying thermodynamic concept was developed a long time ago, but truly cost-effective solutions have eluded our grasp because the technology involved was still too immature. The three parties have developed technology that is technically feasible while, at the same time, holding out the prospect of a favourable business case.

"We now succeeded in building a heat pump that converts initially unusable residual heat into high-temperature process heat."

“For many years, we have been getting to grips with the challenge of making heat pumps profitable”, says Henk Hoevers. “We have now succeeded in building a heat pump that converts initially unusable residual heat into high-temperature process heat. A second technological innovation is that, instead of hot water, the heat pump now produces steam that we can use directly in our paper process.”

Ahead of the competition

A steam-generating heat pump was also a total novelty for IBK. “We found the concept enormously appealing”, says Mr Voshol. “If we succeeded, we would be years ahead of the competition. It would also reflect our ideas about combining product innovation with doing our bit for the energy transition. This initiative by ECN part of TNO was also in line with our approach to innovation, which involves cooperating with end users and knowledge institutions.”

However, this will be balanced by lower energy consumption, which leads directly to a reduction in operational costs.

Prepared for the future

As things turned out, it took a good five years to develop this product. There were numerous technological obstacles to overcome. The technical and economic feasibility of the devices were regularly assessed. “The final tests are now taking place at Petten, in the Netherlands. If it passes these tests with flying colours – and we are confident that it will – all that remains for us to do is to transform the demonstration model into an attractive, well-priced product. Even so, potential buyers will have to make allowance for higher investment costs. However, this will be balanced by lower energy consumption, which leads directly to a reduction in operational costs. Ultimately, a heat pump will pay for itself. It will also help us to accomplish one of our aspirations – the simultaneous achievement of economic and social gains”, observes Jan-Willem Voshol of IBK.

Henk Hoevers notes that “For Smurfit Kappa, the new heat pump can be of added value at many points in the production process. It will deliver verifiable operational cost savings, while cutting CO2 emissions. After the test at ECN part of TNO, in Petten, we will install the heat pump in one of our factories, where further testing and optimization procedures will be carried out. Once this work has been completed, we intend to install these devices at other company sites.”

Industrial Heat Technology Programme (IHT)

According to Jebin James, the new heat pump has the potential to be a promising export product. “While we initially developed this for the paper industry, it is ideally suited to the chemical, refining and food sectors as well. As an organization, TNO is now establishing an industrial heat technology programme. In this framework, we are cooperating with the business community to deliver robust, sustainable innovations for other processes. Aside from the recycling of residual heat, the programme will explore renewable sources, electric or hydrogen, geothermal energy in combination with heat pumps, combined heat and power based on fuel cells, and much more. Any such concepts must be extremely robust if they are to succeed in an industrial context. In other words, they must be able to compete with existing technologies and must deliver CO2 reductions in both the current and future energy systems.

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