Geothermal heat pumps (GSHPs), or direct expansion (DX) ground source heat pumps, are a highly efficient renewable energy technology, which uses the earth, groundwater or surface water as a heat source when operating in heating mode or as a heat sink when operating in a cooling mode. It is receiving increasing interest because of its potential to reduce primary energy consumption and thus reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases (GHGs). The main concept of this technology is that it utilises the lower temperature of the ground (approximately <32°C), which remains relatively stable throughout the year, to provide space heating, cooling and domestic hot water inside the building area. The main goal of this study is to stimulate the uptake of the GSHPs. Recent attempts to stimulate alternative energy sources for heating and cooling of buildings has emphasised the utilisation of the ambient energy from ground source and other renewable energy sources. The purpose of this study, however, is to examine the means of reduction of energy consumption in buildings, identify GSHPs as an environmental friendly technology able to provide efficient utilisation of energy in the buildings sector, promote using GSHPs applications as an optimum means of heating and cooling, and to present typical applications and recent advances of the DX GSHPs. The study highlighted the potential energy saving that could be achieved through the use of ground energy sources. It also focuses on the optimisation and improvement of the operation conditions of the heat cycle and performance of the DX GSHP. It is concluded that the direct expansion of the GSHP, combined with the ground heat exchanger in foundation piles and the seasonal thermal energy storage from solar thermal collectors, is extendable to more comprehensive applications.

Applications for Earth Energy

The decision to use geothermal heat pumps should be based on the results of geotechnical or hydrogeological investigations. Sites may be encountered that are inappropriate for geothermal heat pumps. The geothermal heat-pump system is an all-electric system. A life-cycle analysis, using gas and electric rates, initial costs, maintenance costs, and replacement costs, must be conducted before selecting these systems. These systems may not be cost effective in locations with high electric rates and inexpensive gas. The geothermal heat-pump concept is not a good candidate for buildings that are not expected to have heating loads. EE units can be used for the dehumidification of indoor swimming pool areas, where the unit can dehumidify the air and provide condensation control with a minimum of ventilation air. The heat recovered from the condensed moisture is then used for heating domestic/pool water or for space heating. EE systems are also used as heat recovery devices to recover heat from building exhaust air or from the wastewater of an industrial process. The recovered heat is then supplied at a higher temperature at which it can be more readily used for heating air or water.

Thermal Storage

If the use of peak electricity and want to ensure the even distribution of hot water, then it is worth considering a thermal store. The water, which is heated by the heat pump, can be stored in a large insulated tank at about 50ºC and only used when needed. The thermal store can also link into solar water panels providing an additional source of renewable energy. Thermal storage requirements will vary in size depending on house construction and insulation.

The key to the diffusion of any innovation is the ability to reduce the uncertainty or risk associated with the innovation. There are several diffusion attributes of a technology that help us identify the technology’s ability to overcome uncertainty and achieve potential adoption. The key attributes have been divided into five categories, presented below with our assessment of the status of GSHP relative to these attributes (Table 1).

Efficient heating performance makes EE a good choice for the heating and cooling of commercial and institutional buildings, such as offices, stores, hospitals, hotels, apartment buildings, schools, restaurants and penitentiaries. EE systems can heat water or heat/cool the interior space by transferring heat from the ground outside, but they can also transfer heat within buildings with a heat-producing central core. The technology can move heat from the core to perimeter zones where it is required, thereby simultaneously cooling the core and heating the perimeter.

Heating and Cooling

A GSHP extracts solar heat stored in the upper layers of the earth; the heat is then delivered to a building. A re-circulating piping system connects the heat pump. The piping system adds or removes heat to the circulating water. GSHPs can reduce the energy required for space heating, cooling and service water- heating in commercial/institutional buildings by as much as 50% (Figure 1). GSHPs replace the need for a boiler in winter by utilizing heat stored in the ground; this heat is upgraded by a vapour-compressor refrigeration cycle. In summer, heat from a building is rejected to the ground. This eliminates the need for a cooling tower or heat rejecter, and also lowers operating costs because the ground is cooler than the outdoor air.

Figure 1. Ground source heat pumps
Water-to-air heat pumps are typically installed throughout a building with ductwork serving only the immediate zone; a two-pipe water distribution system conveys water to and from the ground-source heat exchanger. The heat exchanger field consists of a grid of vertical boreholes with plastic u-tube heat exchangers connected in parallel. Simultaneous heating and cooling can occur throughout the building, as individual heat pumps, controlled by zone thermostats, can operate in heating or cooling mode as required. Unlike conventional boiler/cooling tower type water loop heat pumps, the heat pumps used in GSHP applications are generally designed to operate at lower inlet-water temperature.

The GSHP are also more efficient than conventional heat pumps, with higher COPs and EERs. Because there are lower water temperatures in the two-pipe loop, piping needs to be insulated to prevent sweating; in addition, a larger circulation pump is needed because the units are slightly larger in the perimeter zones requiring larger flows. GSHPs reduce energy use and hence atmospheric emissions. Conventional boilers and their associated emissions are eliminated, since no supplementary form of energy is usually required. Typically, single packaged heat pump units have no field refrigerant connections and thus have significantly lower refrigerant leakage compared to central chiller systems. GSHP units have life spans of 20 years or more. The two-pipe water-loop system typically used allows for unit placement changes to accommodate new tenants or changes in building use. The plastic piping used in the heat exchanger should last as long as the building itself. When the system is disassembled, attention must be given to the removal and recycling of the HCFC or HFC refrigerants used in the heat pumps themselves and the anti-freeze solution typically used in the ground heat exchanger.


Radiant Heating & Cooling


There is an alternative source of heat beneath our feet. GSHPs are 380% efficient, 75% renewable and 100% reliable. The land absorbs radiant energy from sun, even on the darkest days (Figure 2). This is stored, every day, and all for free. Solar energy from above and geothermal heat from below maintains the subsurface UK ground temperature within a range of approximately 10°C – even in winter. GSHPs tap this low-grade energy and turn it into usable heat through the simple principle refrigeration- an idea recognised as long ago.

Conventional radiators have been used for many years to heat buildings. The radiators are located around the building perimeter. Because of the small surface area of the radiators, they must be operated at a high temperature to deliver sufficient heat. Modern systems are different in that they cover a large area of floor or ceiling and operate at temperatures much closer to room air temperature, approximately 15°C in cooling mode and 35 to 50°C in heating mode. The system cannot be operated at lower temperatures in cooling mode without the risk of condensation (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Heat pump works by promoting the evaporation and condensation of a refrigerant

The small temperature difference means that about 30% to 50% of the ceiling or almost the entire floor area must be available as heat transfer surface. Ventilation air is provided by a small-dedicated ductwork system and works particularly well with displacement ventilation concepts. Several companies have developed metal radiant panels that can be ceiling mounted, either attached directly to the ceiling or as part of a T-bar suspended ceiling. For floor systems, flexible plastic piping is embedded in the concrete floor or in gypsum topping on a wooden sub-floor. Ceiling mounted systems are usually best for combined heating and cooling systems. Floor systems are best for heating-only systems (provided the floor isn’t covered with heavy carpets). The amount of heat transfer depends on the direction of heat flow. Air in contact with a cooled ceiling panel will naturally fall as it is cooled increasing the movement of air over the panel. Conversely, air in contact with a warm ceiling will stratify at the ceiling and have low convective heat transfer. As a guide to system sizing, the total heat transfer rate (combined radiation and convection) is about 11 W/m2/°C temperature difference for cooled ceilings and heated bare floors. This value drops to 6 W/m2/°C for heated ceilings and cooled floors. Floor coverings such as carpeting reduce the output of heated floors. Radiant systems are more energy-efficient than air-based systems. They require less parasitic energy (pump and fan energy) to deliver heat. The low operating temperatures mean that boilers can operate more efficiently. Finally, because the walls are radiantly heated, the air temperature can be cooler to achieve the same level of comfort. These lower air temperatures result in lower heat losses to the outdoors (Table 2).

Heat Distribution System

The heat pump works by promoting the evaporation and condensation of a refrigerant to move heat from one place to another (Figure 4). A heat exchanger transfers heat from the water/anti-freeze mixture in the ground loop to heat and evaporate refrigerants, changing them to a gaseous state. A compressor is then used to increase the pressure and raise the temperature at which the refrigerant condenses. This temperature is increased to approximately 40oC. A condenser gives up heat to a hot water tank, which then feeds the distribution system. Features include: Lower utility bills, less maintenance, no visible outdoor plant, reduction in emissions, and versatility of system.

Figure 4: Ground temperatures throughout the year

Because GSHPs raise the temperature to approximately 40°C they are most suitable for under floor heating systems, which require temperatures of 30 to 35 °C, as opposed to conventional boiler systems, which require higher temperatures of 60 to 800C. GSHPs can also be combined with radiator space heating systems and with domestic hot water systems. However, top-up heating would be required in both cases in order to achieve temperatures high enough for these systems. Some systems can also be used for cooling in the summer. Geothermal heat pumps are the most energy efficient, environmentally clean, and cost effective space conditioning systems available according to the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States of America. Ground Source Geothermal heating and cooling is a renewable resource, using the earth’s energy storage capability. The earth absorbs 47% of the suns energy amounting to 500 times more energy than mankind needs every year.

The closed loop portion of a ground source heat pump system consists of polyethylene pipe buried in the ground and charged with a water/antifreeze solution. Thermal energy is transferred from the earth to the fluid in the pipe, and is upgraded by passing to a water source heat pump. One 100 metres vertical closed loop borehole will typically deliver 14000 KWh of useful heating energy and 11000 KWh of useful cooling energy every year for life. For typical commercial building early trials indicate annual HVAC energy consumption in the order of 75 kWh/m² compared with 156 kWh/m² ‘good practice target’, and 316 kWh/m² typical consumptions published by the Department of the Environment in Energy Consumption Guide No.19. Low energy consumption means associated lower CO2 emissions than from conventional systems.

Energy savings of 40% compared with air source heat pumps and by over 70% compared to electric resistance heating are being achieved, and CO2 emissions are reduced to 40 kg/m², less than half that associated with DOE typical HVAC design. With the heat source buried in the ground, the system is both invisible and silent. There is no need for boiler, flue, cooling tower, water treatment or associated plant rooms, and the total building resource content is reduced.

This invention relates to a cooling and heating system, which operates on the absorption and phase change heat exchange principle. More particularly it relates to a continuous heat actuated, air cooled, double effect generator cycle, absorption system. In further aspects, this invention relates to a system constructed for use with an absorption refrigeration solution pair consisting of a non-volatile absorbent and a highly volatile refrigerant, which is highly soluble in the absorbent. A disclosed refrigerant pair is ammonia as the refrigerant and sodium thiocyanate as the absorbent. An absorption cycle is disclosed using the thermo physical properties of sodium thiocyanate/ammonia, absorption/refrigerant pair. Also disclosed is the construction and configuration of a reverse cycle air cooled double effect generator absorption refrigeration system for use with the sodium thiocyanate/ammonia refrigeration pair, as well as sub-compositions, subsystems and components that improve the system efficiency and reduce cost.

At a depth of 5.5 metres the earth’s temperature will be constant at a temperature equal to the average mean ambient temperature throughout the year in any location meaning temperature in winter higher than the air temperature, and in summer lower than air temperature, thereby, providing higher efficiencies in both heating and cooling modes and ensuring a lower peak load throughout the year (Figure 4).

There is unlikely to be a potentially larger mitigating effect on greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting global warming impact of buildings from any other current, market-available single technology, than from ground-source heat pumps.  Over its first year of operation, the ground source heat pump system has provided 91.7% of the total heating requirement of the building and 55.3% of the domestic water-heating requirement, although only sized to meet half the design-heating load. The heat pump has operated reliably and its performance appears to be at least as good as its specification. The system has a measured annual performance factor of 3.16. The occupants are pleased with the comfort levels achieved and find the system quiet and unobtrusive. The heat pump is mounted in a cupboard under the stairs and does not reduce the useful space in the house, and there are no visible signs of the installation externally (no flue, vents, etc.). The ground source heat pump system is responsible for lower CO2 emissions than alternative heating systems (the emission figures for an all-electric system and oil- or gas-fired boilers are given in table 4). For example, compared with a gas-condensing boiler, the heat pump system resulted in 15% lower CO2 emissions (assuming a CO2 emission factor for electricity of 0.46 kg/kWh). When compared with a new oil-fired boiler system or an all-electric system, the emissions of CO2 are cut by over 40% and nearly 60% respectively. Annual fuel costs, based on the fuel prices and are about 10% higher than those for a gas condensing boiler and about 20% higher than for a new regular oil boiler, but servicing costs are likely to be lower. Running costs are substantially cheaper than for an all-electric heating system. At present, suitable products are not readily available in the UK, so the heat pump had to be imported. This had some drawbacks, e.g., limited documentation in English and possible difficulty in obtaining spare parts. The controller supplied with the heat pump was not designed for use with an Economy 7 type tariff structure. There is, however, potential to improve the operation of the system by scheduling more of the space and water heating duty during the reduced tariff period. The performance of the heat pump system could also be improved by eliminating unnecessary running of the integral distribution pump. It is estimated that reducing the running time of this pump, which currently runs virtually continuously, would increase the overall performance factor to 3.43. This would improve both the economics and the environmental performance of the system. More generally, there is still potential for improvement in the performance of heat pumps, and seasonal efficiencies for ground source heat pumps of 4.0 are already being achieved. It is also likely that unit costs will fall as production volumes increase. By comparison, there is little scope to further improve the efficiency of gas- or oil-fired boilers.


Conventional heating or cooling systems require energy from limited resources, e.g., electricity and natural gas, which have become increasingly more expensive and are at times subjects to shortages. Much attention has been given to sources subject to sources of energy that exist as natural phenomena. Such energy includes geothermal energy, solar energy, tidal energy, and wind generated energy. While all of these energy sources have advantages and disadvantages, geothermal energy, i.e, energy derived from the earth or ground, has been considered by many as the most reliable, readily available, and most easily tapped of the natural phenomena. This study has dealt with the modelling of vertical closed-loop and ground source heat pump system. The challenges associated with the design of these systems originate from the fact that they present a unique type of heat transfer problem. First, there are inherent inabilities to make direct observations in the subsurface environment with respect to both space and time. Second, heat transfer within the subsurface environment can be highly transient. Consequently, a considerable amount of research in the past decade has been geared towards optimising the design and performance of GSHP systems and this study is part of those efforts.

The installation and operation of a geothermal system may be affected by various factors. These factors include, but are not limited to, the field size, the hydrology of the site the thermal conductivity and thermal diffusivity of the rock formation, the number of wells, the distribution pattern of the wells, the drilled depth of each well, and the building load profiles. The performance of the heat pump system could also be improved by eliminating unnecessary running of the integral distribution pump. This would improve both the economics and the environmental performance of the system.

The results of soil properties investigation have also demonstrated that the moisture content of the soil has a significant effect on its thermal properties. When water replaces the air between particles it reduces the contact resistance. Consequently, the thermal conductivity varied from 0.25 W/m/K for dry soil to 2.5 W/m/K for wet soil.

However, the thermal conductivity was relatively constant above a specific moisture threshold. In fact, where the water table is high and cooling loads are moderate, the moisture content is unlikely to drop below the critical level. In Nottingham, where the present study was conducted, soils are likely to be damp for much of the time. Hence, thermal instability is unlikely to be a problem. Nevertheless, when heat is extracted, there will be a migration of moisture by diffusion towards the heat exchanger and hence the thermal conductivity will increase.


Abdeen Mustafa Omer
Energy Research Institute (ERI)
Nottingham, UK