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From lava to ammonia heat pumps: An Icelandic district-heating saga

By District Energy posted 03-11-2019 10:22


Charlotte McLaughlin, A21


A 10 MW ammonia heat pump system will now be used for Vestmannaeyjar's district heating system, which has been running on lava and electric boilers.

Iceland’s Vestmannaeyjar once had “one of the weirdest district heating systems ever designed” – it ran on lava from a volcano, Ragnar Ásmundsson from Varmalausnir – Heat RD tells Accelerate Europe. Now it will use a 10 MW ammonia heat pump system.

The story begins in 1973, when the Eldfell volcano erupted on Heimaey (‘Home Island’), the largest of the Vestmannaeyjar ('Westmen Islands' in English), an archipelago, municipality and group of 15 islands in southern Iceland. The lava came in handy.

“They had lava flowing through half of the town. So obviously they left. Then they came back and thought to use the heat from the lava for the district heating system,” explains Ragnar, who was in charge of installing a new ammonia heat pump that services over 4,200 inhabitants in the municipality.

After the eruption, residents were able to exploit the lava for 10 years, says Ívar Atlason, regional manager of district heating company HS Veitur’s Vestmannaeyjar operations. The young Ívar fled Heimaey for the mainland back in the 1970s. “By 1988 the heat from the lava was gone,” Ívar says. “We’ve been using the electric boiler to heat up water [for residents’ homes ever since]. Now [we’ll use a] heat pump to heat the water.”

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