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Sparing the environment – by means of CO2

Hundreds of thousands of Japanese people get their hot shower water by means of energy-saving Norwegian technology. The invention spares the environment and climate by using CO2 – the very gas that has had to carry much of the blame for the greenhouse effect!

Today, a quarter million Japanese households use heat pump technology originally developed by SINTEF and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) for heating their tap water.

Cuts electricity consumption by two thirds
The heat pump supplier promises consumers hot water that requires less than a third of the electricity needed to heat the tap water by electricity alone. In Japan these heat pumps primarily replace the use of natural gas as a source for heating tap water. The heat pumps reduce both the emissions of CO2 and the consumer’s heating cost.

Heat pumps are known to save electricity when used for heating our living space. Most of them use chemicals to transport the heat to where we want it.

But in a heat pump specially designed for the purpose, CO2 can replace the chemicals as the system’s ”workhorse”. This enables the heat pump to produce steaming hot water while being tight-fisted with respect to electricity consumption.

Avoids the use of environmentally harmful chemicals
The circulation of chemicals in conventional heat pumps and cooling systems has contributed to breaking down the ozone layer. In 1987 the international community signed a convention whereby it was decided to abolish these chemicals.

Chemical producers quickly came up with new products to replace the old ones, but these turned out to have a strong greenhouse effect. 

Against this backdrop, SINTEF and NTNU decided at an early stage that, instead of chemicals, they would use nature’s own resources – such as CO2. Used in cooling systems and heat pumps, CO2 does not contribute to the greenhouse effect if it leaks into the atmosphere. The CO2 is “borrowed” from industrial exhaust gases that would otherwise have been emitted straight into the atmosphere.

Greener cars
At the same time as they developed the efficient heat pump for heating tap water, SINTEF and NTNU also developed a CO2-based air-conditioning system for cars. The research team in Trondheim was the first to demonstrate that CO2 can replace chemicals in the cars’ air-conditioning systems, without increasing fuel consumption.

Toyota has already used the Trondheim researchers’ patent in a car of the future.

The EU is now preparing a regulation which will prohibit the use of today’s chemicals in air-conditioning systems in all new car models as from 2011. The car manufacturers are already performing road tests of cars with CO2-based air conditioning. SINTEF and NTNU are also participating in an EU project aimed at producing cheap and simple CO2 systems for small cars.

Commercialised by Hydro
Inventors at SINTEF and NTNU were granted several patents from 1989-90 to 2004.
The Hydro group secured the rights to industrialise the technology at an early stage. The company has resold production rights to several large industrial companies on a licence basis.

We believe that our technology will gradually appear in many different types of cooling and refrigeration systems and heat pumps.  We are happy to have been able to produce results that are much in demand, and which can help to make the world a greener place.


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By Svein Tønseth