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Symbolfoto: Das AIT ist Österreichs größte außeruniversitäre Forschungseinrichtung

Steam without gas

AIT presents NEFI project AHEAD with innovative steam-generating heat pump powered by 100 percent natural refrigerants

On January 25, 2023, the new NEFI project AHEAD (Advanced Heat Pump Demonstrator) was presented in Vienna together with the biopharmaceutical company Takeda, the BMK, the Climate and Energy Fund and the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT)

Led by the AIT Center for Energy, the AHEAD research project is the first to integrate a steam-generating heat pump in industrial operations. The natural gas-free steam generation aims to achieve a CO2 reduction of up to 90 percent at one of Takeda's largest pharmaceutical production sites in Vienna, using only natural refrigerants. This technological showcase project underpins Austria's leading role in high-temperature heat pump research and is intended to serve as a practical example for the entire pharmaceutical industry and also for many other industrial companies and sectors that want to make their processes CO2-free.

The innovation of this project is the steam-generating heat pump, which is operated exclusively with 100 percent natural refrigerants and combined with steam compressors to achieve the highest heat utilization temperatures to date. The AHEAD system can reach temperatures of 200-260°C. At Takeda, 184°C is required for steam supply.

"Austria is committed to becoming climate-neutral by 2040. This important milestone requires a joint effort and Austria's industry plays a key role. Our collaboration with Takeda is a very good example of how we can bring an innovative concept to life,” said Volker Schaffler, Head of Energy and Environmental Technologies, Federal Ministry for Climate Protection, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology (BMK), Austria. “When industry, research and administration develop solutions together and create the necessary conditions that are needed to achieve our climate and energy targets everyone will win including our citizens. We see our offers as a central lever for achieving our common climate goals."

Bernd Vogl, Managing Director of the Climate and Energy Fund, said: "Industry is one of the central levers for achieving European and national climate targets: Around a third of all energy is consumed here, and the sector is responsible for almost 50 percent of domestic greenhouse gas emissions. A comprehensive transformation is therefore needed to become climate-neutral. This mammoth task cannot be accomplished by a single person alone. In order to make industrial processes more sustainable, innovative technologies must be developed and companies, research institutions and the public sector must work shoulder to shoulder - as is the case here with this 'AHEAD' project. I am very proud that we can do our part through our flagship energy region, NEFI - New Energy for Industry".

Wolfgang Hribernik, Head of Center for Energy, AIT Austrian Institute of Technology and NEFI network coordinator, emphasizes: "Heat pumps will be an essential element of the energy infrastructure in the future, also in the industrial context. The AHEAD project sets a new milestone with the development of a steam-generating heat pump operating exclusively with natural refrigerants at 11 bar and 184°C. In the temperature range below 200°C, the use of industrial high-temperature heat pumps has enormous potential, as 37 percent of the process heat demand of European industry falls into this range. With the NEFI innovation network, we have the opportunity to scientifically support and test new key technologies such as these with industrial users. This reduces the technical and economic risk for companies on the road to decarbonization."

Pharmaceutical Production Very Energy-Intensive

The AHEAD research project is taking on a pioneering role and providing an environmentally friendly solution for supplying steam to industrial processes. To date, a large part of the process heat demand in pharmaceutical production has mainly been covered by natural gas. In the AHEAD project, this is no longer necessary, as an innovative heat pump system is being established. It consists of a steam-generating heat pump from SPH Sustainable Process Heat GmbH, which is combined with steam compressors to produce steam at 11 bar(a)/184°C. The heat pump is used in the production of pharmaceuticals. This achieves a CO2 reduction of up to 90 percent and over seven months of complete CO2 emission-free operation per year, using only natural refrigerants, at one of Takeda's largest pharmaceutical production sites at 24 Lange Allee in Vienna. This is equivalent to 1,900 tons of CO2 per year and is an important milestone on the way to achieving Takeda's global sustainability goals of operating its facilities with net zero greenhouse gas emissions before 2035."

Furthermore, the research project will develop a concept for implementing the AHEAD system for additional Takeda sites in Austria and worldwide. In addition, the decarbonization potential of this technology for other major energy-consuming industrial sectors, such as the paper, chemical and food industries, is being investigated in Austria.

Veronika Wilk, AHEAD project manager at AIT explains, "The AIT Center for Energy will develop an optimized operating strategy for the AHEAD system with a comprehensive system model. A novel approach will be developed for the CO2 savings potential. This will combine process requirements and expected process changes, learning curves for high-temperature heat pumps based on project experience, and statistical data."

The technical challenge

In the future, AHEAD will use the existing heat from the heating water system to generate steam through another dedicated heat pump. The technical challenge here is that there may be thermal problems in the compressor or problems with the chiller oil due to the high temperatures. Also, most conventional refrigerants cannot be used for such high temperatures. SPH Sustainable Process Heat GmbH has already developed a heat pump that can deliver up to 165°C and is based on a reciprocating compressor. This heat pump is now being adapted to use natural refrigerants to first heat the heating water from 65 to about 130°C, evaporating it in the process. This vapor will be compressed to 11 bar, heating it to over 184°C, as required for pharmaceutical production.

AHEAD is expected to go into operation at the end of 2024 and the final evaluation is scheduled for the end of 2025. The research project is funded by the Climate and Energy Fund and is being carried out as part of the research initiative "NEFI - New Energy for Industry" as part of the Austrian innovation offensive "Vorzeigeregion Energie". www.nefi.at 

The entire press kit and press photos can be found at: http://www.publichealth.at/portfolio-items/Dampf-ohne-Gas/