The design of expanders for organic fluids is gaining an increasing attention due to the large opportunities opened by the ORC as a way to recover low grade heat. The possibility of recovering at least a fraction of the energy related to throttling in inverse cycles could have interesting relapses on the market of heating (heat pumps) and refrigeration machines. The main challenge to be faced is the management of a highly wet fluid (typical quality is in the 0–0.6 range), which puts off side dynamic expanders like turbines. For this reason, piston technology is proposed and analyzed. The potential recovery from the throttling of a 20 kW target domestic heat pump cycle is determined by modeling the real expansion cycle with two different codes, a commercial one (largely widespread and very easy to use) and a purposely developed one, which is much more customizable and may include different approaches to the physical behavior of the two–phase expansion.
The results show interesting possibility of energy recovery from this generally wasted source, which opens the way to improvements of the heat pump COP from 4% to about 7%, depending on the working (i.e. seasonal) conditions. The analysis also points out the agreement in the results of two different adopted simulation tools (commercial AMESim® and self-made customizable EES®), which can be thus considered valuable in the design, analysis and optimization of the proposed expander.
Due to the biphasic nature of the working fluid, the performance of the expander is strongly influenced by the inlet conditions of the fluid from the condenser of the heat pump to the cylinders, such as throttling of the inlet/outlet valves and friction through the ducts.
On the whole, this expander technology has very interesting chances to effectively manage fluids under highly wet conditions, like those related to the throttling from upper to lower pressure of inverse cycles.