Chemical heat pump recuperates waste heat for energy of tomorrow

(12-08-2019) Researchers from the GREEN-CHEM network at Ghent University have developed a patented chemical heat pump to recover industrial waste heat.

Researchers from the GREEN-CHEM network at the Faculty of Bioscience Engineering of Ghent University have developed a patented chemical heat pump to recover industrial waste heat. The development of this efficient circular technology is inspired by the energy storage concept of living cells in nature. This principle, combined by the expertise in phosphorus chemistry resulted in a valuable technology to recover industrial waste heat. Currently, the chemical heat pump is being commercialized by Qpinch, a spin-off from Ghent University.

Waste heat

In Europe, more than 360 gigawatt (GW) of industrial waste heat is dissipated annually to the environment, costing the EU over 52 billion € per year. Approximately half of this waste heat, i.e. 180 GW, has a temperature between 75 °C – 150 °C. “Our technology has the potential to recover 30 GW of this volume and increase its temperature to a useful heat level of over 200 °C”, says Prof. Chris Stevens of Ghent University (UGent). That is equivalent to the energy of about 10.000 windmills.

Inspired by nature

The new industrial chemical heat pump is a bio-inspired technology: In the human body, chemical energy is released when adenine triphosphate (ATP) is converted to adenine diphosphate (ADP) and energy is stored vice versa. The phosphate transfer that occurs in this ATP-ADP cycle inspired prof. Stevens and his team to create their chemical heat pump.

University spin-off

Prof. Stevens: ”We developed the technology to transform low caloric waste heat into high value industrial process heat together with ir. Wouter Ducheyne, who is now CEO of the UGent spin-off, Qpinch (and Caloritum)”. An important aspect of heat pumps when it comes to turning waste heat into useful heat is the ‘heat lift’, i.e. the temperature difference between the input and output streams. “The main advantage of our heat pump is that the heat lift is higher than conventional heat pumps”, adds Ducheyne. “The system can produce heat lifts of 60°C or more and only requires an input of electrical energy of about 2%.” In comparison, conventional compression heat pumps use over 30% electricity for the same amount of heat. The use of thermal driven heat pumps as industrial standard can reduce their CO2emissions by 10%.

The business case shows a return on investment within 3 to 4 years. The patented technology is applicable in various sectors, ranging from the petrochemical industry to food production and power generation. It can be used in both small and large installations, from 100 kilowatt to several megawatts.

Award winning invention

For the chemical heat pump technology, Ghent University and Qpinch received the prestigious Emerging Technology prize, organized by the Royal Society of Chemistry in London. Out of more than a hundred applications, the industrial waste heat recovery technology was chosen by a jury of experts and industry professionals as the best new innovation in the category ‘Energy & Sustainability’.

Through this award, the new breakthrough technology enjoys international recognition and supports the expertise in green chemistry and sustainable development.

“Nature has optimized its energy use over millions of years, it inspired us to create a much less complex chemical system that valorizes about half of the low temperature industrial waste heat. The re-use of waste heat is another example of circular economy thinking” states Prof. Stevens.