Carbon on the corporate agenda

James Smurthwaite
James Smurthwaite

As more corporates look to achieve their sustainable goals, James Smurthwaite explores different how HVAC equipment can help reduce a building’s carbon footprint

The development of new technologies in modular and packaged HVAC is keeping pace with the demand from clients for new approaches to familiar challenges. Irrespective of changing legislation and corporate requirements, buildings still need to be cooled, ventilated and heated, and hot water is always going to be required.

And this is where the HVAC industry can meet these needs in new ways with no compromise on performance or delivery – supporting clients and their sustainable goals. The number of well-known corporate names adding their weight to the shift to a low carbon economy is growing rapidly.

Tate & Lyle were reported at the end of 2020 as having its environmental and emissions goals approved by the Science Based Targets Initiative. Computer specialist Lenovo made a similar move in early September when it announced that it would reach net zero emissions by 2050. TV channel ITV has also recently committed to net-zero by 2030, and coffee company Nespresso is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2022.  The challenge for any large corporation is how to reduce carbon across a broad range of operations - including their buildings. From offices to manufacturing sites, to laboratories – each will have their energy performance profiles and requirements for services such as heating and cooling. 

Sustainable goals

Building services have a significant impact on the energy use and related carbon footprint of any business, and this is where adopting new approaches in packaged and modular systems can help to meet sustainable goals. The requirements for heating, cooling and ventilation using modern equipment can also enhance system performance within a building, increase operational life, reduce the building’s carbon footprint and make for a healthier indoor climate for occupants.

As a manufacturer, we’ve spent several years exploring new approaches to delivering HVAC into buildings. Our philosophy has been to build on familiar and reliable technologies, but adding aspects of design and performance that create benefits in the short- and long-term. The Hybrid VRF system is an example of this because it builds on the VRF approach that the industry is well familiar with, to deliver simultaneous heating and cooling into a building.

However, the 'Hybrid' element is what makes the system different. The external parts of the system contain R32 refrigerant, but internal heating and cooling are delivered to interior fan coil units using water as the medium. The result is a system designed, and operated, just like a VRF system, but which uses a fraction of the refrigerant. Being modular, just like VRF, the system can also be installed in phases offering much more design and maintenance flexibility.

What's more, since there is no R32 refrigerant in an occupied space, there is no requirement for leak detection – saving installation time and costs. Chillers are another well-known element of the HVAC system in buildings. And modern inverter-driven chillers can also include heat recovery within the chiller itself – making it a great option where space is at a premium. While heat recovery isn't a new idea, its application in a simultaneous heating and cooling chiller is a fresh take on saving energy and reducing the carbon footprint. It works well in offices where heating and cooling may be required in different parts of the building; or mixed-used developments of offices and apartment dwellings. The heat extracted can also be used to supplement hot water, reducing the load on boilers.

Many businesses are also looking to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, and adopting an electric approach to heating using heat pumps is one way to do this. Heat pumps are excellent for delivering low carbon, high-efficiency, low-temperature heating. However, they have usually required additional use of boilers for the production of hot water.

An example of this is the recently launched commercial heat pump, which produces hot water from 55°C to 90°C. Not only does it offer high-efficiency heating, but the Ecodan QAHV also removes the need for boilers to boost hot water production – saving capital expenditure and long-term energy costs.  Finally, we have seen huge advances in controls now with web-based systems for individual pieces of equipment that can work in tandem with BEMS systems to bring complete control and monitoring for any corporation, wherever they happen to be headquartered.

James Smurthwaite is Business Development Manager at Mitsubishi Electric

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