• Electric Vehicles
  • EV Charging
  • Heat Recovery
  • Advanced Batteries

Heat Pumps Find Opportunity in the EV Market

Young Hoon Kim
Sep 30, 2021

Guidehouse Insights

Internal combustion EVs (ICEVs) primarily use combustion engines to drive, and the engine's waste heat warms the passenger compartment in winter. The waste heat is conserved in the coolant and can continue heating the vehicle when stationary. In the summer, an ICEV’s combustion engine can also drive air conditioning (AC). EVs generate far less waste heat since they use highly efficient powertrains to drive without burning fuel like ICEV. This creates complications in the winter because using an electric heater to warm the cabin requires drawing power from the limited energy capacity of EV batteries, reducing vehicle mileage. 

Growing Heat Pump Adoption

To overcome this complication, EV manufacturers have begun adopting heat pumps (HPs). Traditional AC brings cold air inside and dumps hot air outside by exchanging temperature during the summer. HPs in heating mode run in reverse, bringing hot air inside and dumping cold air outside during the winter. HPs have been widely used for indoor heating and cooling in residential, commercial, and industrial purposes, providing cooling in summer and heating in winter. For EVs, the technology can save battery power during winter, as demonstrated by driver tests of EVs with and without HPs

In 2014, Kia utilized waste heat sources generated from electric motors and inverters in its Soul EV and air heat sources from HPs. Since then, Hyundai Motor Group developed a high efficiency HP system that took advantage of waste heat from the battery and the on-board charger. The Hyundai Kona EV received top marks at an EV test in Norway due to this advanced HP technology. Nissan was the first to install an HP on an EV in 2012. Various other EV automakers started to adopt HPs, including BMW, Volkswagen, Hyundai, and Kia. 

Although HP developments are encouraging, HPs do have a climate impact because of their use of refrigerant. There is a need for the EV industry to adopt low global warming potential (GWP) refrigerant as is required in the cooling and heating space. Adoption of R1234yf refrigerant for ICEV AC systems shows a GWP of 4. In residential AC (RAC), R410A with GWP 2,088 gradually is being replaced by R32 with GWP 675. In the EU, the F-Gas regulation prohibits RAC with a refrigerant GWP greater than 750. Nevertheless, R1234yf is suitable only for cooling. Hence, industry players are actively seeking more a suitable low GWP refrigerant for heating and cooling.  

Continuous Technology Innovation and Business Activity

The EV market presents an opportunity for the industry. As HPs become increasingly essential to EVs, they will become a substantial portion of the HVAC industry and provide a chance to improve EV mileage further for the automotive industry. Recommendations for industry players include the following: 

  • Partner to improve technology: The business value chain of EV HVAC is tightly connected (automotive, thermal management component, refrigerants, and many more). Collaboration across the entire business chain for the effective development of HP technology is essential.
  • Look for commercial segment opportunity: As a light duty EV HP application emerges, HP technology also shows opportunity in commercial EVs such as trucks and buses. German engineering specialist IAV and automotive supplier Webasto have agreed to collaborate on commercial EV developments such as buses, trucks, and off-road machinery. Webasto provides expertise in components such as batteries, high voltage heaters, and heat pumps. IAV contributes its knowledge in complete vehicle development and system integration.
  • Build market entry strategy: This new market brings numerous business opportunities including investment in new technologies, mergers and acquisitions, and more. Newcomers in this industry need to build a market entry strategy first.