Unplugged Energy Independence

Do gasification boilers work?

Posted by Kelsey Loeffler on Wed,Sep 10,2014 @ 10:17 AM

Flex Fuel furnaceIt depends on how you define work. Work in terms of saving money? Work in terms of efficiency? Work in terms of producing heat? The answer is yes, to all of those. Mike Greason once told a joke about heating with wood; he said, "You want to get warm from the fire, not from running back and forth to the wood pile." I think we've accomplished what Mike set us out to do, in more ways than one.

We heated with oil and have a few oil fired boiler, along with a large older home. Our hot water is electric and we use a lot of it with a teenage daughter. We installed a WoodMaster Flex Fuel furnace about a year ago. Our decision to try the Flex Fuel furnace comes on the heels of $5,000 and $7,000 a year heating oil bills that are just too high for our family. "Thermostat Anxiety" I like to call it.

The Flex Fuel choice was based on my cousins's nudging, he has an outdoor wood boiler. He has a similar old home that cost just too much to heat. I was torn between choosing the convenience of pellets and the free wood from thinning our woodlot to heat our home. My decision was made when I saw the Flex Fuel. I no longer had to be torn between my frugal side and enjoying the convenience of pellets. It burns wood or pellets.

I have a never-ending desire to be more responsible in my use of energy. Years ago, I had an eye opening conversation with a fellow on a plane who had a unique insight into the future of global energy that is not available to the general public.

This past winter I was on business in the Midwest and took a detour up to WoodMaster in Minnesota, to learn about the Flex Fuel furnace before I purchased it. The two days I was in Minnesota the air temperature was minus 37 degrees both days. I had never been to Minnesota, it is a very flat open area. We drove for two hours on a country highway as straight as a ruler without hitting a stop sign before finding WoodMaster's corporate office in an industrial park. There was a sea of outdoor wood boilers around their offices. I was surprised to see how many there were. Thousands of them lined up like little soldiers in the arctic air.

We met the WoodMaster staff, which is mostly family, are very inviting, and really love what they do. Warren and Lynn took me through a two day adventure with the Flex Fuel furnace. It is a very advanced piece of heating equipment. It is computerized, and is European technology they are producing here in the USA. Before learning about the furnace, we had to learn about our homes BTU loss and what we would be heating. Lynn and Warren insisted we have the facts before we jump into the furnace.

The Flex Fuel boiler is much smaller than I expected, it looked more like a new car in a showroom. Inside there is a large circuit board with a lot of connections. It's called the Flex Fuel because it can burn wood and pellets, and can be programmed or installed in many different ways to fit any installation. It can heat a home, water, hot tubs, garages, outbuilding and driveways.

Flex Fuel furnaceWe purchased a 30kW Flex Fuel and installed it at our home. We built a shed for the Flex Fuel. I also figured I'd be bringing wood from the woodlot to the house and I didn't want to track in the dirt that comes from firewood. The shed is 10 feet by 10 feet. This left a little extra room for some pellets and wood to be stored. I even built the roof a little long with an overhang to have a place to store wood out of the rain and weather. I also added lighting to allow us to get to the shed easily in the long dark days of winter. After building the shed it was time to set the boiler. I had to use our log truck to set the boiler in place, it weights 1,400 pounds. There was some work inside the house adding plate exchanges to the boiler and water heater.

After we finished the install, we could not wait to try the boiler. We went right up to the woodlot and found a standing dead ash tree, which was our first source of heat. The ash tree burned very well. We'd been burning wood in the boiler for a month or so before a business trip took me away again. What was I to do? The boiler needs to be loaded almost every day depending upon the outside temperature. Ask my family to load the boiler? I decided to throw some pellets in the bin and see how this boiler runs on pellets. Away I went, nervously trusting the Flex Fuel and an untested bin of pellets. I have a family member next door who agreed to check the house and make sure it was warm. I returned three days later from my business trip with a fully heated house and some pellets left in the bin. Success!

I learned I really enjoyed the convenience of pellets. They burn evenly and I only have to visit the shed about every 3-5 days. This is important for me. I travel quite a bit and did not hve time this year to stockpile wood. I did however find time to help my cousin Billy store up 14 cords for his outdoor stove! When I was burning wood, I found we only needed about 4-5 pieces of standard firewood a day to heat our house. I liked burning a mix of pine and hardwood. Our buffer tank is large, so burning the pine works well for us. We have lots of pine and I hate seeing it go to waste. Burning hardwood produces more heat, but again, I have endless pine thinning.

The Flex Fuel heats our water too. This is where we noticed unexpected savings. Our electric bill is down about 30% every month. We found this added benefit to be the most delightful part of using the boiler. The hot water never runs out. We can shower, run laundry and do dishes without ever having to think if we have enough hot water.

I love pellets, they are easy, burn well, and leave me to do other things. Next year, I'm sure I'll burn more wood, as my schedule is not as full as it was this past year. It is work to pick up bags of pellets and load the bin, but certainly less than gathering, splitting and stacking wood. We are contemplating installing a large grain bin and auger to get a truckload of pellets for next season. That remains to be analyzed on the dollars and cents though. I am very proud we only ordered a hundred gallons of heating oil for emergency use. When we got stuck out of state in a snow storm this winter season, our emergency oil came in handy. Our oil boiler kicked on when the pellets ran out. I don't miss the huge oil bills and calling around to find the best price for oil.

Do gasification boilers work? We certainly are saving money in the long run. I estimate we will save about $4,900 a year in oil costs and about $225 a year in electric costs. It will take us about four years to recover our investment and begin saving the money we are spending. We will keep the thermostats wherever we want them and the hot water will run as long as we want. I find that buying the pellets and splitting wood involve some physical work, but it feels good physically, and in my soul. We certainly have not found an overall permanent energy solution for our country. Until then, I'll do my part right here, in my little corner of it.

Article written by Charles Bulson. Charles Bulson is a proud NYFOA member.

Topics: affordable fuel, alternative energy sources, affordable heat, affordable heating source, residential wood heat, expensive winter heat, woodmaster, flexfuel, high efficiency furnace, woodmaster flexfuel series, pellet furnace, Pellet furnaces, WoodMaster FlexFuel, EPA qualified furnace, EPA qualified, Flex Fuel, alternative energy, alternative heating, alternative fuel, renewable energy, wood pellet heat, wood pellet heating, wood master, home heating, alternative home heating, gasification boilers, gasification boiler

Getting gouged by propane prices?

Posted by Kelsey Loeffler on Thu,Jan 30,2014 @ 09:54 AM

alternative heatingGetting gouged by propane prices? If so, you're not alone. Some 14 million Americans who rely on propane have been shelling out more and more to heat their homes while the strong demand has outpaced the already low inventories, energy officials say.

Now is a better time than ever to switch to alternative energy. Free yourself from the rollercoaster of fluctuating fossil fuel prices.

Don't just take our word for it. Here are some recent articles from around the U.S

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Scott Walker declares state of emergency on propane shortage.

Citing another wave of frigid weather bearing down on Wisconsin and dangerously low supplies of propane, Governor Scott Walker has declared a state of emergency. Walker directed all state agencies "to assist as appropriate" in helping residents deal with the propane shortage, which has sent prices soaring and left some users struggling to find a supplier who will provide fuel.

Nearly 250,000 Wisconsin homes heat with propane, many in rural areas not served by natural gas lines.

The shortage — attributed to a colder-than-normal winter, the shutdown of a key supply pipeline earlier in the season and heavy use of propane by farmers to dry grain last fall — has sent prices for many customers well above $5 a gallon. Read the full article here.

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Midwest faces propane emergency as more cold weather moves in.

Millions of residents in the Midwest and Northeast who rely on propane to heat their homes are facing a severe shortage and spiking prices as another wave of freezing weather heads east. Now, states across the region are deploying emergency resources as a result.

Blame for the propane shortage lies with the wetter-than-usual fall, which meant that farmers used more propane than usual to dry corn crops; an unusually cold winter; and a temporary shutdown of a major pipeline for maintenance this year.

As a result, propane prices are setting new records. The average price of a gallon of residential propane for the week ending Jan. 20 hit $2.96, according to the Energy Information Administration, up 60 cents from mid-October, the highest price ever recorded by the agency. Prices in the Midwest are even higher; on Friday, prices ended at $4.30 a gallon in the Midwest, down from a peak of about $5 a gallon. Read full article here.

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Propane shortage slams farmers.

A propane squeeze caused by January’s bitter cold has put the hurt on Minnesota’s livestock industry, as farmers scramble to find costly fuel to keep their animals warm.

Some turkey growers are being told by suppliers that the propane spigot might get turned off if the cold keeps up over the next week.

Shortage worries are particularly acute in the ­turkey industry, and Minnesota is the nation’s leading turkey-producing state, with about 250 growers.

Fuel suppliers have told some farmers that they have “five days left of propane,” said Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. “The big concern is availability.”

Farmers — along with propane users of all stripes — are paying huge premiums for the fuel these days. Wholesale spot prices in Minnesota have gone from about $3.75 per gallon a few days ago to just south of $5 a gallon. Last fall, the propane price was $1.55 per gallon, and most of the run-up since then has occurred this month. Read full article here.

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U.S. propane shortage hits millions during brutal freeze.

Millions of Americans are feeling the pinch of a propane shortage this week as brutal cold exposes the supply vulnerabilities of a fuel that heats homes, schools and businesses across wide swathes of the United States.

Prices of the fuel, a liquefied petroleum gas, have rocketed to all-time highs in Midwestern states, distributors are rationing supplies, and some schools have shut due to a lack of the fuel during this year's second bout of Arctic weather.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued emergency orders suspending the limits on the amount of time truck drivers can spend on the road for 10 Midwestern states and 12 Northeastern states, a rare regional order. Read full article here.

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Prolonged cold blast worsens propane shortage across Midwest.

America’s chronic cold is creating a significant propane shortage across the Midwest — leading Wisconsin to become the latest state to declare an energy emergency in advance of more arctic air blasting eastward this week.

Some 14 million Americans who rely on that type of fuel have been shelling out more and more to heat their homes while the strong demand has outpaced the already-low inventories, energy officials say.

Twenty-four states, including Ohio, Illinois and Alabama, have already declared energy emergencies — which helps to loosen transportation rules so that out-of-state truckers can drive longer hours to make needed propane deliveries. Read full article here.

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Now is a great time to research alternative heating products. Take the time to learn about the products available to you and the changes the EPA will be making to the wood burning industry.

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Do Electric Rates Impact Outdoor Wood Heat?

Posted by Kelsey Gagner on Tue,Aug 21,2012 @ 11:49 AM

outdoor wood heatWhen the price of oil goes up, it goes up for everyone. But electricity rates vary by state with residents of some states paying half of what people living in other states pay. New York and Connecticut are saddled with the highest electricity rates in the country, which may have contributed to the rapid rise of wood heating in those states. In the South where electricity rates are the cheapest, the use of outdoor wood heat decreased in most states between 2000 and 2010.

Electric heating has surged in recent years, though not as fast as outdoor wood heat, in part because of efficient heat pumps. The economic disadvantages of fuel oil and propane as heating fuels are often discussed, but electricity is a more complex story.  More than a third of American homes use electricity as the primary source of heat (US Census) and another 24% use it as a secondary heat source (EIA).

An electric boiler costs an estimated $35.05 per million Btu, according to EIA, and an electric space heater, a common appliance used for secondary heating, costs an estimated $34.32 per million Btu.  An EPA certified indoor or outdoor wood stove running at 72% efficiency, in contrast, is estimated to cost only $12.63 per million Btu.      
Consumer rates in Alaska, California, Maryland, New Jersey and Washington DC are on the high side at 14-17 cents per kWh (an average of $41-$50 per BTU for electric heating). The majority of homeowners in the South, West, and mid-West pay 9-13 cents per kWh, which works out to be $26-$38 per BTU. That is a much cheaper rate than some states, but still twice the cost of heating with wood.
Check out the Alliance for Green Heat to read the full article and to view a map of the United States electric rates.
Learn more about outdoor wood heat and see how much money you could save by switching to this renewable, alternative energy heat source.
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Topics: woodmaster outdoor wood-burning furnaces, affordable fuel, woodmaster furnace, alliance for green heat, affordable heat, affordable heating source, affordability of wood heating, EPA, outdoor wood heat, woodmaster, affordable heating, energy independence, outdoor wood furnace, outdoor wood furnaces

WoodMaster Supplies Flex Fuel Series to Silver Bay Greenhouse

Posted by Kelsey Gagner on Tue,Aug 07,2012 @ 11:40 AM

describe the imageThe business park the city of Silver Bay acquired in 1993 is finally filling up.

Victus Farm has joined AmericInn on the property, which the city now calls its eco-industrial business park. The new farm, a collaboration with the University of Minnesota Duluth, will provide jobs as well as local food and energy for the region.

"This really was a big effort," Lana Fralich, Silver Bay city administrator, said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony that took place on Sunday. She thanked the City Council and officials for their foresight in bringing in local jobs for future generations.

The farm is a combination of new technologies. The process starts with fish, tilapia to be exact, grown in large tanks. Next is the greenhouse that holds produce and algae. The fish will provide nutrients for the plants and the plants will oxygenate the water for the fish.

The algae will be made into biofuel, the tilapia will be sold to Harley Tofte, operator of Dockside Fish Market in Grand Marais, and the produce will be sold locally.

Ellen Anderson, adviser to Gov. Mark Dayton, made the trip to Silver Bay for the ceremony. She addressed a crowd of more than 100.

"Local foods and local energy means local jobs and local economic prosperity," Anderson said.

The story started in 1993, when the city purchased land for a business park from Lake County.

"Since the early 2000s, we've tried to make it work," Silver Bay Mayor Scott Johnson said.

The city courted many businesses, but AmericInn was the only one they could convince, until now.

The city began discussions with the Center for Sustainable Community Development at UMD more than three years ago and held the groundbreaking ceremony for the facility in October 2011.

"This is exactly the innovative, important project UMD should be involved with in the 20th century," said Susan Maher, dean at the UMD College of Liberal Arts.

The city and Lake County, supplemented by numerous local and state grants, supplied the $1.3 million needed for the farm.

The first grant of $300,000 came from the Minnesota Legislature. Fralich and Mike Mageau of the CSCD at UMD did their best to stretch their money, Fralich said.

All the construction labor was local. City crews did the prep work, Lakeside Masonry did the concrete work and Ray Riihiluoma Inc. completed most of the construction. WoodMaster, a local biomass company, supplied the pellet boilers that will heat the facility and water.

The final step will be the installation of a wind turbine near the water tower to power the facility. The city is in the process of finalizing the agreement.

The city hopes to expand the eco-industrial business park to include a pellet manufacturing facility that can feed the boilers at Victus Farm, Fralich said. The nearest pellet facility is in Hayward, Wis.

The farm will bolster the local economy and serve UMD, too, Mageau said. The site will be used for education, research and as proof that a system like Victus Farm can work in a small community like Silver Bay.

"This has really been an amazing project," Mageau said. "Silver Bay has been by far one of the best communities to work with."

 

Learn more about WoodMaster's Flex Fuel Series.

Topics: affordable fuel, bioenergy flex fuel furnace, alternative energy sources, affordable heating source, EPA qualified furnace, EPA qualified, Flex Fuel, affordable heating, energy independence

Choose Wood Heating.

Posted by Kelsey Gagner on Wed,Jun 13,2012 @ 11:14 AM

Outdoor Wood Heating SystemWith the ever-increasing price of oil, natural gas and electricity, many homeowners are now considering using wood to heat their homes and workshops. Along with the potential cost savings that an outdoor wood heating system or other type of efficient wood stove can provide on home heating bills, using wood as your home heating fuel of choice is great for the environment - here's why:

1.Wood Is a Renewable Source of Energy

Any type of wood can be used for heating including trees that are storm damaged, diseased and unsuitable for other uses like furniture production. Trees grow quickly, require minimal care and new trees can be planted immediately after existing trees are harvested. Trees that are used for heating fuel are often grown in areas that would otherwise be unusable for any other purpose including traditional agriculture, housing or commercial development.

2. Burning Wood Is Carbon-Neutral

As a tree grows it acts as a natural air filter, absorbing carbon dioxide from the environment and in turn releasing pure oxygen back into the air. When wood is burned in an outdoor wood heating system or other appliance, the carbon dioxide the fire creates is equal to the amount of carbon dioxide that the tree absorbed during it's life, a process that is commonly referred to as the "carbon cycle". The same thing happens when a tree dies and decays naturally: the carbon dioxide it absorbed while growing is slowly released back into the environment as the tree breaks down and rots.

3. Wood Is Locally Sourced

Unlike other heating fuels like oil, natural gas and coal which are often shipped thousands of miles across international borders before reaching the consumer, wood that is burned for heating is usually sourced close to where it will be purchased and used.

Traditional fossil fuels are nonrenewable, costly to extract and transport, and require a complex system of distribution to get the fuels to the end user, the customer. By contrast, wood is 100 percent renewable and getting the fuel to the end user is usually a very simple, straightforward process that can be as easy as cutting down a tree in your own back yard or buying the wood from your local firewood dealer.

4. Outdoor Wood Heating Systems Can Heat Your Household Water

In addition to providing an eco-friendly and affordable source of home heating, an outdoor wood heating system can serve double-duty as a water heater. Many models of outdoor wood furnaces are hydronic which use hot water to transfer heat to a home. That same hot water can be captured and used for your household hot water needs with the installation of a simple heat exchanger, eliminating the need for a gas or electric water heater.

If you already burn wood, do you know where the type of wood you burn ranks? Using good, seasoned wood is an important part of getting high efficiencies out of your outdoor wood heating system, and in turn, saves you even more money.

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Buy local (energy included)

Posted by Kelsey Gagner on Wed,Nov 09,2011 @ 10:52 AM

The holidays are just around the corner. Do you typically buy your holiday presents from local vendors? Do you care if a product is made in your community, state or country?

Many people do.

Why is it that we often look down on consumer products made overseas, while we don’t think twice about purchasing fossil fuels from across the world?

Local energy is possible.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 57 percent of U.S. oil is imported. Importing foreign oil negatively affects our economy, security and environment.

Shipping in oil from the Middle East is not our only option. Alternative residential heating sources, such as wood burning, exist.

Wood can come from your local community—or even from your own backyard. By fueling with local wood, you’re not only preventing sending money overseas, but also contributing to your local economy. This giving back propels local industry, jobs and economic stimulus.

Local energy can be affordable.

Heating with wood is a wise choice with excellent ROI. However, we realize the upfront costs of switching to wood may be too much for lower income families. That’s why we offer incentives, like cash back and financing plans. By switching to an independent energy source, low-income families may no longer need assistance with purchasing expensive fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, sometimes incentives and financing plans aren’t enough to help families with very low incomes change to wood heating. This is where we need governmental policies in place. Partially funded by the US Forest Service Wood Education and Resource Center (WERC), the year-long study Transforming Wood Heat in America: A Toolkit of Policy Options explores the existing and potential policy options for incentivizing more efficient and clean burning residential wood heat.

The goal of the study was to discover ways for Americans of all socio-economic groups to use wood heat and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. John Ackerly and Tatiana Butler of the Alliance for Green Heat co-wrote the report.

Wood is the resource that has always been here, always will be here, and is truly sustainable, dependable and local.

Topics: Wood furnaces, wood heat, expensive fossil fuels, alliance for green heat, affordable heat, affordable heating source, U.S. energy administration, residential wood heat, local energy, woodmaster, Flex Fuel, wood master

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