A new project which aims to heat houses more sustainably with a new generation of air source heat pump has won £1.1m in support from the UK Government.
The project, titled ‘Flexible Air Source Heat pump for domestic heating decarbonisation’, or FASHION, brings together researchers from the Universities of Glasgow and Birmingham.
Over the next three years, they will work to develop air source heat pumps which overcome the limitations of the current generation of heat pump technology and reduce the amount of power they consume.
FASHION is one of 11 new projects funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) which aim to decarbonise the heating and cooling of buildings.
Heating is one of the largest contributors to the UK’s carbon emissions, with nearly 13% of greenhouse gases a result of home heating using fossil fuels. This is a similar level to emissions from cars.
Air source heat pumps, which draw energy from the air, have great potential as cost-effective and renewable sources of energy for heating in UK homes. However, their  capacity and efficiency can be impacted by cold temperatures.
Frost begins to build up on the surface of outdoor units when temperatures drop below around 6°C, which affects their ability to heat indoor spaces. Current designs defrost the units by using additional power to draw thermal energy back out from the building, interrupting the heating process indoors during the process and reducing the systems’ overall energy efficiency.
The FASHION team are working to design a more energy-efficient, flexible air source heat pump capable of simultaneously defrosting itself during colder weather while continuing to provide heat indoors. It will also be capable of switching modes to benefit from off-peak electricity or draw in warm air during the daytime.
Professor Zhibin Yu, of the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering, is FASHION’s principal investigator. Professor Yu said: “The UK government has set the country a target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. In order to do that, we’ll need to radically overhaul the way in which we heat our homes and businesses. Currently, the 24.5m gas-powered heating systems in building across the UK account for nearly half of the country’s total energy consumption.
“Air source heat pumps, powered by renewable sources of electricity, have a great deal of potential to help the UK decarbonise the way we heat indoor spaces. The FASHION project is setting out not just to develop an improved form of heat pump but also to investigate how the industrial and business sectors can help develop consumer awareness of the benefits of heat pumps, and a roadmap to help deliver the scale of change we’ll need to meet our net-zero targets.”

Minister for Climate Change Lord Callanan said: “The way we use energy in our buildings makes up almost a third of all UK carbon emissions. Reducing that to virtually zero is going to be key to eradicating our contribution to climate change by 2050.
“That’s why it’s important that innovative projects like FASHION in Glasgow receive backing to develop new and effective ways to heat and cool our homes and workspaces, helping drive down the costs of low-carbon technologies so everyone can feel the benefits of cheaper and greener energy.”
The FASHION project is led by Professor Zhibin Yu and Professor Kenneth Gibb of the University of Glasgow, and Dr Yongliang Li and Professor Hanshan Dong of the University of Birmingham.