OPUS

Geothermal Heat Pump: Polyethylene (PE) Pipe

Image provided by Ferris State University

Geothermal heat pumps or ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) use the earth's relatively constant...
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Polyethylene (PE), the most popular plastic resin in the world, is the second most widely used...
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Benefit of Material to Systems Application

Polyethylene (PE) pipe is the material of choice for the ground heat exchanger in a ground source heat pump system. Due to PE pipe’s versatility, flexibility, durability, leak-proof fusion joints, and ease of use, it has become a key component in the success of Ground Source Heat Pumps. High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) is the most commonly used PE material, and is optimal for geothermal heat pump systems due to its ductility, low temperature impact resistance, permanent flexibility and temperature versatility.

System Application and Material Usage

Ground source heat pumps can be categorized as having closed or open loops, and those loops can be installed in three ways: horizontally, vertically, or in a pond/lake. The type chosen depends on the available land areas and the soil and rock type at the installation site. These factors will help determine the most economical choice for installation of the ground loop.

The recommended specification takes into account the optimum performance based on the need to make sure the pipe and fittings can handle the pressures and stresses involved in the application, as well as the heat transfer requirements for the heat exchanger itself. Heavier wall pipe may be able to handle higher pressures and stresses, but the thicker wall lowers the heat transfer efficiency with the ground. All of these parameters must be balanced. When designing the PE pipe heat exchanger, maximum operating pressures and temperatures, as well as head and surge pressures must be taken into account.

The International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA) has developed design and installation standards for the HDPE pipe for a geothermal heat exchanger. For the most current revision contact IGSHPA at Oklahoma State University.

Polyethylene pipe can be joined by several different methods. One of the best attributes of PE pipe is its ability to be heat fused, producing a 100% leakproof joint that is as strong, or stronger, than the pipe itself. Mechanical joints are an acceptable joining method for PE pipe, but since mechanical connections must be accessible, fusion joints are typically used wherever possible. Extensive information on joining PE pipe can be found in the Handbook of PE Pipe at the Plastics Pipe Institute website.

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