Thank Einstein for Gas Heat Pumps

  • Adam Kay
  • One hundred and forty-four years ago, on March 14, 1879, famous physicist Albert Einstein was born into a family in Germany. And while Einstein’s story of Nobel Prizes and scientific theories may speak for themselves, his contribution to the natural gas industry is certainly lesser known.

    Einstein and his colleague Leó Szilárd are credited with inventing the world’s first gas heat pump, known as the Einstein-Szilárd refrigerator, which was initially intended to make refrigerators safer for home use.

    The Einstein-Szilard refrigerator marked the beginning of technological advancements that brought us the natural gas heat pumps we know and use today. While the commercialization of the early device in the 1930s was difficult to achieve, a variant of the pump was later used in nuclear breeder reactors to produce low-carbon energy. The potential of natural gas heat pumps for lowering carbon emissions has only increased with time and development.

    Modern natural gas heat pumps are one extremely promising avenue for advancing energy efficiency. Like all heat pumps, natural gas heat pumps move heat from one place to another, heating or cooling a home or business based on the outside temperature. Natural gas heat pumps offer a few unique advantages over electric heat pumps that can make them extremely useful.

    Because electric heat pumps move heat around instead of creating it, they struggle at low temperatures. They require more energy to move the same amount of heat and struggle to (or cannot) heat homes to comfortable temperatures. This can strain the electrical grid unexpectedly while raising energy costs. By contrast, natural gas heat pumps can use high-efficiency natural gas combustion to add to ambient heat while reducing strain on the electrical grid, making them a strong contender for heating in regions with cold winters.

    Natural gas heat pumps that descended from the original Einstein-Szilárd refrigerator are keeping families warm and safe across the world. Considering the original impetus of its invention, one can only imagine its creators’ satisfaction if they knew their invention’s impact.