Amidst the climate and energy crisis, heat pumps have emerged on the housing heating market as a technology that can replace gas and oil, while lowering the energy bills. Yet, their air compression systems require refrigerants to work. These refrigerants, also known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), are amongst the most potent greenhouse gasses.
Founded in 2017 and having raised €5 million, French deeptech startup Equium is seeking to provide a more ecological alternative. With this aim, it has developed a novel, acoustic heat pump core that harnesses the energy of sound.
The so-called Acoustic Heat Pump (AHP) can cover a household’s heating needs without the use of refrigerants. Instead, its operation is based on the phenomenon of thermoacoustics — the convergence of thermics, acoustics, and fluid mechanics.
The core works with a high-fidelity (Hi-Fi) speaker powered by electricity, which generates an acoustic wave in tubes filled with helium — a neutral and non-toxic gas that accelerates the propagation of sound. The acoustic wave causes the gas to compress or expand, producing heat or cold, respectively. It remains confined within the system, which allows the machine to be silent.
According to Equium, the heat pump isn’t just greenhouse gas-free, but also made from 100% recyclable materials, boasting overall a very low carbon footprint. At the same time, the machine’s ecological mode of operation is claimed to provide the same efficiency of a conventional heat pump, while increasing energy savings and overall cost.
A big part of that is the pump’s modulation, which allows users to increase or decrease the speaker’s volume to achieve the desired power output. Apart from that, the system is easy to install, doesn’t require maintenance and has a lifespan of around 30 years — about twice as long as a conventional heat pump.
As per the startup’s founder, Cédric François, for an equivalent cost and size, the AHP’s advantage translates to a 50% lower CO2 impact and a 20% lower energy consumption.
Equium’s aim is to sell its acoustic cores to heat pump manufacturers, seeking to develop a French acoustic HP industry. The first integration will be processed by the startup’s strategic partner Arkteos, a regional manufacturer. The company is currently conducting field tests and expects to market its product in 2024.
To date, the young French startup has only one competitor in this brand new market: Netherlands-based BlueHeart Energy. But hopefully, more companies will start tapping into the capabilities of thermoacoustics to revolutionize heat pump technology.