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Absorption heat pump

Where a mechanical heat pump is driven by electric energy, an absorption heat pump is driven by
thermal energy. This thermal heat is delivered by steam or by combustion of natural gas.
Absorption heat pumps are very useful in situations where both heating and cooling is required.
The principle of operation of an absorption heat pump is based on absorption and evaporation of
a refrigerant. An absorption medium as wel as a refrigerant have to be chosen. Well known pairs

Litium-bromide (LiBr) and water, in this case water is the refrigerant and LiBr the
absorption medium.
Ammonia and water, with Ammonia as the refrigerant and water as absorption medium.

Principle of operation

The figure on the right shows the principle of operation of an absorption heat pump. It is based
on a heat pump that uses the pair Ammonia and water (NH3/H2O). The absorption heat pump
consists of two loops. The loop on the right represents the absorption medium and the circulation
loop at the left represents the refrigerant.

Cycle of the absorption medium

At the intersection of P1/T2, thermal energy is added to the generator of the heat pump. As a
result the refrigerant is evaporated out of the absorption medium at high pressure. The absorption
medium is lowered in pressure with the use of an expansion device and flows towards the
absorber. Inside the absorber the gaseous NH3 is absorbed (intersection P0/T1). Due to the
absorption proces, useful heat is released at an intermediate temperature. The pressure of the
mixture is than increased with a pump and flows back to the generator. To increase efficiency, an
internal heat exchanger is used to preheat the cold mixture with the hot mixture.

Refrigeration cycle
At the intersection of P1/T2, thermal energy is added to the generator of the heat pump. As a
result the refrigerant is evaporated out of the absorption medium at high pressure. The gas flows
towards the condensor. Inside the condensor the NH3 releases heat to its environmentis and will
condensate. The liquid Ammonia is than lowered in pressure inside an expansion device and
flows towards the evaporator. At low temperature (at intersection point P0/T0) heat is added to
the Ammonia and the Ammonia will evoporate. Waste heat can be used as heat source, but it is
also possible to use the evaporator for cooling purposes. The gaseous NH3 than flows towards
the absorber where it is absorbed in water. Due to the absorption useful heat is released.

Absorption heat pumps with natural gas as a heat source are commercially available. For the
production of useful heat at a maximum temperature of 70 C and cooling of the condensor with
water or air, the efficiency is approximately 150%. In other words: the addition of 1 kWh of
natural gas results in the production of 1,5 kWh of heat.
When is it profitable to apply a heat pump?
Heat Pumps can be used in several industrial processes. Industrial plants have both waste heat
flows and heat consumers. Waste heat flows are for example: waste water, hot humid air,
condenser heat from refrigeration systems, etc. Heat consumers are process water, central heating
systems, blanchers, dryers, etc.
In complex industrial applications, a pinch analysis may be performed to assess the suitability of
waste heat integration. For processes that are less complex, the method described below will help
in forming a decision.

1. Identification
Identify all heat consuming processes. For waste heat sources as well as potential waste heat
consumers the following information must be collected:


2. Direct heat exchange

For waste heat flows with higher temperatures than their potential users, direct heat exchange is
possible. In this situation a heat pump is not needed to transfer the heat.

3. Using a heat pump

Waste heat flows with a temperature level lower than the heat consumers do not offer a
possibility for direct heat exchange. It may then be an interesting option to upgrade the
temperature level using heat pumps. The efficiency of the system will depend on the temperature
levels, power and hours of operation. You may use our feasibility check to determine the
feasibility of using a heat pump.
Typical applications
Drying processes
Drying is an important industrial process. Various temperature levels and drying principles are
applied in industrial dryers. The most common dryer type is one in which air is heated with
steam, gas or hot water and then circulated over the wet product. As the air picks up moisture
from the wet product, its humidity increases and the energy contained in this stream may make it
a useful heat source. Standard procedure is to exhaust this humid air or dehumidify it. With a
heat pump, heat can be extracted from the humid air. The air is cooled down and dehumidified.
The extracted heat can be increased in temperature and can be used to heat the dryer.
Thus, the use of a heat pump serves two purposes - heat the dryer and dehumidify and recirculate
air. Heat pump assisted drying can give high efficiencies because of this. This innovative heat
pump application has been realised in practice; the heat pump for drying of fries.

Washing processes

In industry a lot of washing processes occur. Mostly this are processes where hot water,
sometimes mixed with a solvent, is prayed over a product. The washing installation is often
equipped with an air discharge fan to prevent the installation from vapor flowing out through the
in- and outlet opening and other openings in the washing machine. The air discharge will blow
humid hot air to the ambient and will maintain an under pressure inside the washing machine.
The discharge air contains a large amount of energy. With a heat pump it is possible to use the
heat prom the discharge air to heat the washing water.
Heating of process water with waste heat from a refrigeration system
Typically the food industry produces products that need to be cooled or frozen before transport
and/or consumption/utilisation. On the other hand, hot water is needed for the process and for
cleaning purposes. Waste heat from a refrigeration system has a temperature of 25 to 30 C. With
the use of an add-on heat pump, waste heat from the condensing side of the refrigeration system
is used to heat water to temperatures up to 80 C. The add-on heat pump will further increase the
pressure of the refrigerant from the refrigeration system to achieve high condensation
For pasteurization a product needs to be heated above 70 C. Afterwards the product is cooled
down. The product temperature thus varies from cold before pasteurization to hot during
pasteurization and back to cold again after pasteurization. In most pasteurization processes heat
exchange between the cold and hot product flow is already implemented. The cold product
before pasteurization is used to pre-cool the product directly after pasteurization, or looking at it
the other way around: the hot product is used to pre-heat the cold product. In addition to this
extra heating and cooling are needed for pasteurization. This is normally provided by, for
example, steam injection and a flow of chilled water. A heat pump might be the ideal solution to
extract heat from the product that needs to be cooled and supply this heat at a higher temperature
to the product that needs to reach pasteurization temperature.
Other applications
Industrial plants provide a wide variety of heat sources and potential users. The heat pump is a
promising technique with numerous applications in the industry. To investigate its feasibilty for
your particular situation a pinch analysis can be performed as well as a feasibility check.