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Heat pumps are systems that transfer thermal energy from a heat source to a heat sink. The thermal energy is moved in a direction that is opposite to the direction of spontaneous heat flow.  Heat pumps use energy to accomplish the desired transfer of thermal energy from heat source to heat sink.  In short, a heat pump running in heating mode is nothing more than a standard air conditioner running in reverse, so instead of rejecting heat to the outdoors when cooling, it is extracting heat from the outdoor air and transferring that heat to the indoor space.

How Engine-Driven Heat Pumps Work

The engine-driven gas heat pump air conditioning systems utilizes an efficient reciprocating engine running on a natural gas to produce the shaft horsepower to turn a scroll vapor compressor. In short, the electric motor is replaced with a gas engine.  The gas engine driven heat pump uses the same vapor compression cycle as the electric heat pump. The primary advantage of an engine-driven heat pump is the operating cost.  The following image shows the system in heat mode.

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How Absorption Heat Pumps Work

The natural gas absorption heat pump differs from traditional electrical heat pumps.  Instead of consuming electric energy to operate a vapor compression cycle, the absorption heat pump consumes gas to heat a solution of water and ammonia in a completely sealed absorption circuit.

In generic terms, absorption heat pumps are hydronic type systems, as they heat and/or cool the water that is required. This system is like the vapor compression cycle, but instead of a motor and compressor, the absorption system uses a generator, pump and absorber. The image below shows an absorption-based heat pump in heating mode.

There are multiple absorption heat pumps configurations available:

  • Air source, water source, or ground source (geo-thermal) systems
  • Heating only, hot water up to 140°F
  • Heating & cooling (reversible), hot water up to 140°F and chilled water down to 37.4°F
  • Simultaneous heating and cooling
  • Heat pump water heaters
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