Purdue University Graduate School

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Roadmapping and Critical Assessment of Emerging Heat Pump Technologies for Residential Applications

posted on 2023-08-08, 17:24 authored by Zechao LuZechao Lu

With increasing concerns about the global warming effects of HFC refrigerants, low-GWP refrigerants and non-vapor compression heat pumps are investigated as potential mid- and long-term replacements for current vapor compression heat pump systems that rely on high-GWP refrigerants. To address the need for more environmentally friendly space cooling and heating, and water heating solutions. the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) is supporting the development of smarter, more efficient, and affordable heat pumping systems operating with low- or near-zero GWP refrigerants through different programs including the Energy, Emissions, and Equity (E3) Initiative. In addition, the Emerging Technologies (ET) Program within the Building Technologies Office (BTO) emphasized the research and development efforts needed to support new technologies that could reduce energy usage in residential and commercial buildings by 50\% over the next decades. In the literature, limited studies were found that systematically investigated different combinations of conventional and emerging space conditioning and water heating technologies while accounting for real building loads, different climate zones, utility structures, and current state-of-the-art equipment. Existing literature primarily focused on thermodynamic performance evaluations at fixed boundary conditions. In addition, separate sensible latent cooling (SSLC) and other novel cooling and dehumidification systems (e.g., membrane-based systems) can significantly reduce the electricity usage for space conditioning. To compare the performance of conventional and emerging technologies several figures-of-merit such as the second law efficiency, are often used. However, limitations exist in previous studies to define the thermodynamic reversible limits and second law efficiency for cooling and dehumidification systems.

This study developed a comprehensive modeling framework to evaluate both current state-of-the-art vapor compression systems and emerging HVAC\&R technologies in real-world scenarios. The platform will be used to assess potential energy savings, scalability issues, and the effectiveness of combined technologies for different buildings, climate conditions, and utility structures.

To compare HVAC technologies, a new physics-based definition for the reversible limit and the second law efficiencies for cooling and dehumidification systems with air recirculation has been developed. The new framework is then extended to define a novel performance metric, the seasonal second law efficiency, to form a universal benchmark for assessing various cooling and dehumidification systems. Five cooling and dehumidification systems including magnetocaloric cooling, solid desiccant dehumidification, and membrane dehumidification are evaluated using this benchmark. Steady-state thermodynamic models are constructed for each system. Second law efficiency for each system under various outdoor temperatures and indoor sensible heat ratios (SHR) are calculated. The annual electricity usage of the five systems is used to justify the seasonal second law efficiency definition. The results show that compared to conventional vapor compression systems with mechanical dehumidification, the membrane-based AMX-R cycle can reduce annual electricity use by 12.2%-22.2% and increase the seasonal second law efficiency by 36%.

The advancements of nine not-in-kind (defined as non-vapor compression systems, solid-state, and chemical-based systems) technologies, i.e. magnetocaloric, thermoelectric, elastocaloric, electrocaloric, membrane-based, Vuilleumier, sorption, chemical looping, and desiccant, were reviewed in detail and compared with the state-of-the-art vapor compression systems. Suitable figures-of-merit were defined to compare the different technologies from a thermodynamic standpoint as well as technology readiness level. As a result of the thorough literature review, a roadmap was created to track the development of emerging HVAC&R technologies and future developments. More importantly, the roadmap enabled the identification of several case studies to evaluate potential energy savings both for space conditioning and water heating. Techno-economic studies for eight HVAC configurations for space heating, cooling, and water heating were conducted for a realistic building scenario under various climate conditions. Different combinations of advanced equipment such as heat pump water heater (HPWH), ground-source heat pumps (GSHP), cold-climate heat pumps (CCHP), and membrane-heat pumps were compared with traditional vapor compression heat pumps and gas furnaces. A building model was developed in EnergyPlus and validated with historical data from the DC Nanogrid House at the Purdue University campus. A total of eleven climate zones were considered, and both local weather conditions and utility pricing were implemented in the simulations. Moreover, future SEER2/HSPF2 equipment ratings and E3 Initiative targets were also included in the analyses.

The initial simulation results provided climate-based equipment selection guidelines and quantitative techno-economic assessments. For instance, CCHPs with two-stage compression in heating mode save 10%-20% in annual heating cost compared with single-stage VCHPs in Climate Zone 4A, 4C, 5A, 5B, 6A, and 6B. Membrane evaporative air-conditioners could provide cooling cost savings in places where is a significant cooling load, such as Zone 1A, 2A, 2B, 3A, 3C, 4A, 5A, and 6A. Gas furnaces should only be used in cold places where the electricity price per kWh to gas price ratio is higher than 3. GSHP has the lowest HVAC annual energy cost in six out of eleven climate zones in the U.S. Dual fuel heat pumps are not always the most economical option but yield better average cost savings among the eleven locations. HPWHs should be recommended in areas where the electricity price to gas price ratio is below 3.

The developed simulation framework will be instrumental to continue in-depth investigations of current and next-generation heat pump technologies. The ultimate goal of this research is to provide future guidelines on the selection of building-specific and climate-specific equipment solutions that will enable energy savings and future decarbonization strategies (e.g., geospatially-resolved simulations).


Center for High Performance Buildings


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Mechanical Engineering

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Davide Ziviani

Additional Committee Member 2

James E. Braun

Additional Committee Member 3

Eckhard A. Groll

Additional Committee Member 4

W. Travis Horton