James Seabrook, Vitalis, presenting on CO2 heat pumps in Canada at AMTO America 2024.
James Seabrook, Vitalis, at AMTO America Summit 2024.

ATMO America: Vitalis to Install 1.5MW CO2 Heat Pump at Canadian University

The air-source heat pump will serve the University of British Columbia’s ambient low-temperature district energy system to provide heating and cooling.

Canadian manufacturer Vitalis is preparing to install a 1.5MW (426.5TR) CO2 (R744)-based heat pump at the University of British Columbia (UBC)’s Okanagan Campus in Kelowna as Phase 1 of a project that includes an upgrade path capable of providing 2.5MW (710.9TR).

The air-source unit will serve the university’s ambient low-temperature district energy system (LDES), which currently uses a fossil fuel-based boiler system for most of the annual heating load. As Vitalis’s new heat pump is reversible, the system will be able to provide both heating and cooling.

“The district energy system [has] an ambient loop where were circulating water at 6–25°C [42.8–77°F], which means we have very good performance with CO2,” explained James Seabrook, President of Vitalis in a recent interview with NaturalRefrigerants.com. “That allows buildings in heating mode to absorb heat from the loop and buildings in cooling mode to reject heat into the loop. [With this,] you get a very efficient system, [and] youre not wasting any heat.”

Seabrook also shared details of the system, which will be installed in October or November, during his presentation in the Refrigeration Market Trends session at the ATMOsphere (ATMO) America Summit 2024. The conference took place June 10–11 in Washington, D.C., and was organized by ATMOsphere, publisher of NaturalRefrigerants.com.

With the aim of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2030, UBC sees this project as a mechanism to help decarbonize its operations. According to Seabrook, the heat pump installation will reduce the university’s annual emissions by over 815 metric tons of CO2e, while servicing almost 100% of its LDES loop.

The benefits of such a system extend beyond the environment, he noted, adding that it is also great for economics due to its ability to outperform alternatives like electric boilers.

“The beauty of CO2 in this application is that it’s an ambient loop system, so we have low return temperatures, and we run subcritical most of the time,” he said during his presentation. “It is the most effective thermodynamic cycle possible of all refrigerants, and I think it’s going to change the way that North America looks at heating and cooling industrial, commercial and residential spaces.”

As many Canadian universities have district energy systems – due to their ability to deliver large amounts of heating and cooling in a reliable and cost-effective way – similar systems could be easily implemented elsewhere, he noted during his interview.

“There are many universities in Canada that were talking to,” he added.

“[CO2] is the most effective thermodynamic cycle possible of all refrigerants and I think it’s going to change the way that North America looks at heating and cooling industrial, commercial and residential spaces.”

James Seabrook, Vitalis

Meeting the growing CO2 demand

As highlighted during the ATMO America 2024 Refrigeration Market Trends session, the North American market is witnessing a surge in interest for CO2-based refrigeration technologies. Industry experts, including Seabrook, have noted that end users are also now demanding higher quality, greater reliability, improved performance and lower costs from these systems.

In response to the growing demand for CO2 solutions, German manufacturer TEKO and Vitalis have joined forces. This follows the acquisition of Vitalis by the KKVB Group, TEKO’s parent company, in April 2024. Combined, the two manufactures have produced more than 8,000 CO2-based systems that are in use globally.

“We both saw a fit to bring German engineering and 20 years of CO2 experience in North America by leveraging TEKO’s knowledge and partnering with Vitalis to deliver solutions for R744 in North America,” said Seabrook.

TEKO’s extensive range of CO2 units and systems spans commercial and industrial refrigeration applications with capacities of 3–960kW (0.9–273TR). The German manufacturer also brings decades of experience and amassing valuable data. This expertise complements Vitalis’s specialization in larger heat pump applications, creating a robust partnership.

“We see a really good alignment in the split of those products,” he said. “The ROXTA product focuses on commercial and industrial cooling, and the Coolshift product line focuses on heat pump applications for district energy, commercial buildings or industrial applications.”

To cater to the North American market, Vitalis will manufacture TEKO’s products at its Kelowna facility, depending on project type and size.

“TEKO has a huge manufacturing facility in Altenstadt, Germany, with some really slick automated pipe-bending equipment,” he explained. “If the project [makes] sense, then we’ll be shipping subcomponents over and then doing final assembly, pressure inspection, certification, all of that out of Kelowna.”

While Vitalis’s current production line primarily focuses on heat pumps, the company is set to begin its first TEKO refrigeration projects early next year.

CO2 for light-commercial applications

Having traditionally focused on larger-capacity commercial and industrial applications like ice rinks, supermarkets and food processing, TEKO has recently launched its ROXSTAcube mini S for the light-commercial sector.

With a footprint of just 1m2 (10.8ft2), the new CO2-based unit has been designed for small retail applications up to 1,000m2 (10,764ft2), like convenience stores, discount retailers and organic markets, says the manufacturer in a LinkedIn post.

The ROXSTAcube mini S can provide 15–90kW (4.3–25.6TR) in medium-temperature capacity with one or two transcritical CO2 compressors and up to 17kW (4.8TR) in low-temperature capacity with an optional subcritical CO2 compressor. The unit can supply temperatures of −5 to −30°C (23 to −22°F) to meet the various needs of end users.

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