Heat Pumps for Refrigeration

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Heat pumps for refrigeration utilize the principles of heat transfer to provide cooling for various applications, including food storage, industrial processes, and air conditioning. Unlike traditional refrigeration systems that rely on vapor-compression cycles with high-GWP refrigerants, heat pump-based refrigeration systems offer a more sustainable and energy-efficient alternative.

Impact on climate action

Heat Pumps for Refrigeration under the Heat Pumps theme advance climate action by improving energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in refrigeration systems. By utilizing renewable energy sources and minimizing refrigerant leakage, these innovations mitigate climate impact, promote sustainability, and contribute to a greener, low-carbon future.


  • Vapor-Compression Cycle: The system utilizes a refrigerant that circulates through a closed loop, absorbing heat from the refrigerated space and releasing it to the surrounding environment.
  • Compressor: The compressor plays a crucial role in raising the pressure and temperature of the refrigerant, enabling efficient heat transfer.
  • Heat Exchangers: Two heat exchangers are used in the system: an evaporator coil to absorb heat from the refrigerated space and a condenser coil to release heat to the environment.
  • Expansion Valve: The expansion valve reduces the pressure of the refrigerant, allowing it to absorb heat from the refrigerated space.

TRL : 7-8

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Natural Refrigerants: Heat pump-based refrigeration systems are increasingly utilizing natural refrigerants, such as CO2, ammonia, and hydrocarbons, which have lower environmental impact compared to traditional refrigerants.
  • Cascade Systems: Cascade systems combine two or more refrigeration cycles with different refrigerants to achieve lower temperatures and higher efficiency.
  • Variable-Speed Compressors: Variable-speed compressors allow for precise control of the refrigerant flow rate, optimizing cooling capacity and energy efficiency.
  • Heat Recovery: Heat pump-based refrigeration systems can be designed to recover waste heat from the refrigeration process and use it for other purposes, such as heating water or space heating.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Smart Controls and Monitoring
  • Thermal Storage Integration
  • Hybrid Systems Development
  • Cold Chain Optimization
  • Miniaturization and Portability
  • Waste Heat Utilization
  • Advanced Materials and Components
  • Off-Grid Solutions
  • Cold Energy Storage
  • IoT Integration
  • Advanced Heat Exchanger Design
  • Cold Storage Architecture

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  1. Shecco:
    • Technology Enhancement: Shecco is a global technology provider and accelerator in the field of natural refrigerants. They offer innovative heat pump solutions for refrigeration applications, utilizing natural refrigerants such as CO2 (carbon dioxide) and ammonia. These heat pumps provide efficient and environmentally friendly cooling and heating solutions for various industrial, commercial, and residential applications.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Shecco stands out for its focus on promoting the adoption of natural refrigerants and sustainable cooling technologies. Their heat pump solutions offer a viable alternative to conventional refrigeration systems, helping businesses reduce their carbon footprint and comply with environmental regulations.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Shecco serves a diverse range of end-users, including supermarkets, food processing facilities, cold storage warehouses, and commercial buildings. Their heat pump solutions cater to businesses seeking energy-efficient and environmentally friendly refrigeration and heating solutions, contributing to sustainability and cost savings.
  2. Mayekawa:
    • Technology Enhancement: Mayekawa is a leading manufacturer of industrial refrigeration and heat pump systems. They offer a wide range of heat pump solutions for refrigeration applications, including air-source and water-source heat pumps utilizing advanced compression and refrigeration technologies. These heat pumps provide reliable and energy-efficient cooling and heating solutions for various industries.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Mayekawa stands out for its extensive experience and expertise in refrigeration and heat pump technology. Their solutions are known for their high performance, reliability, and energy efficiency, making them a preferred choice for industrial and commercial applications worldwide.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Mayekawa serves industries such as food processing, cold storage, pharmaceuticals, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning). Their heat pump solutions address the cooling and heating needs of businesses seeking reliable and energy-efficient refrigeration systems, helping them optimize operations and reduce operating costs.
  3. Hillphoenix:
    • Technology Enhancement: Hillphoenix is a leading manufacturer of commercial refrigeration and heat pump systems. They offer a range of heat pump solutions designed for supermarket refrigeration, foodservice, and industrial applications. These heat pumps utilize advanced refrigeration technologies and energy management systems to provide efficient and sustainable cooling and heating solutions.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Hillphoenix stands out for its focus on innovation and sustainability in commercial refrigeration. Their heat pump solutions are designed to help businesses reduce energy consumption, lower operating costs, and minimize environmental impact, aligning with sustainability goals and regulatory requirements.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Hillphoenix serves supermarkets, convenience stores, foodservice establishments, and industrial facilities requiring commercial refrigeration solutions. Their heat pump systems cater to businesses seeking energy-efficient and environmentally friendly refrigeration and heating solutions, enhancing product quality, and reducing environmental footprint.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  1. Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU):
    • Research Focus: NTNU is a leading institution in research on Heat Pumps for Refrigeration, focusing on developing advanced heat pump technologies tailored for refrigeration applications in various sectors such as food industry, cold storage, and air conditioning.
    • Uniqueness: Their research encompasses the design, optimization, and testing of heat pumps specifically engineered for refrigeration purposes, considering factors such as energy efficiency, environmental impact, and reliability. They investigate novel refrigerants, heat exchanger configurations, and control strategies to enhance performance and minimize environmental footprint.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work find applications in commercial refrigeration systems, industrial cold storage facilities, and residential heat pump-driven refrigerators. By developing efficient and sustainable heat pump solutions for refrigeration, NTNU’s research contributes to reducing energy consumption, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and improving food preservation and comfort cooling.
  2. Technical University of Denmark (DTU):
    • Research Focus: DTU conducts cutting-edge research on Heat Pumps for Refrigeration, leveraging its expertise in thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, and refrigeration engineering to develop innovative heat pump systems tailored for refrigeration applications across different temperature ranges and operating conditions.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves the development of advanced heat pump cycles, vapor compression systems, and absorption chillers optimized for refrigeration purposes. They explore the use of natural refrigerants, waste heat recovery, and advanced control algorithms to enhance efficiency, reliability, and environmental sustainability.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in supermarket refrigeration, cold chain logistics, and industrial process cooling. By advancing heat pump technology for refrigeration, DTU’s research contributes to energy savings, carbon emissions reduction, and improved cold storage management in various sectors.
  3. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:
    • Research Focus: UIUC is engaged in innovative research on Heat Pumps for Refrigeration, leveraging its expertise in thermodynamics, heat transfer, and energy systems engineering to develop high-performance and environmentally friendly refrigeration solutions.
    • Uniqueness: Their research encompasses the design and optimization of heat pump cycles, refrigerant compositions, and system architectures tailored for refrigeration applications. They investigate advanced heat exchanger materials, multi-stage compression schemes, and thermal energy storage integration to enhance efficiency and flexibility.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work find applications in food processing, cold storage warehouses, and HVAC systems. By developing next-generation heat pumps for refrigeration, UIUC’s research supports energy efficiency improvements, sustainability goals, and cost savings for end-users in both commercial and residential sectors.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Heat pump-based refrigeration systems are commercially available and are being increasingly adopted in various applications, including supermarkets, industrial refrigeration, and cold storage facilities. Their adoption is driven by their high efficiency, environmental benefits, and the phase-down of traditional refrigerants with high GWP.