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

2014 Winter Outlook, According to the Farmers' Almanac

Posted by Todd Strem on Tue,Sep 24,2013 @ 10:59 AM

WoodMasterI generally do not consider myself as an old fashioned individual. Here at WoodMaster we believe we are open minded and constantly researching, developing and on the lookout for new and creative ways to use alternative, natural energy. But when it comes to the Farmers’ Almanac and the Old Farmer’s Almanac I do tend to be old fashioned. I suppose it’s from being raised in the Midwest in a farming community. Of course a main topic was always the weather and how it will affect the crops and of course the Almanac’s were always brought into that conversation. Even today when you go to the local coffee shop you hear the conversation center around the forecast that the Almanac’s have predicted.

Whether you read or believe in the Almanac’s is totally your choice. Personally this is one old habit I am not going to break. I have come to trust what they say because it at least gives me an idea of what to expect and if I happen to be a little over prepared because of it that’s OK.

What are they saying for this coming winter? Well the Farmers’ Almanac is using words like “piercing cold” along with “bitterly cold” and “biting cold.” Take a look at their map of the U.S. and you will get the idea.

Almanac

As for the Old Farmer’s Almanac according to Janice Stillman, editor “This winter is shaping up to be a rough one.” She goes on to say “Sweaters and snow shovels should be unpacked early and kept close by throughout the season.”

What I’m getting out of this is get ready for what may become a long cold winter and for those of you that like to play in the winter wonderlands’ you should have the snow cover to really enjoy yourselves. Here in the Midwest I’m sure we will be enjoying great skiing, snowmobiling and ice fishing if this forecast is accurate.

It’s still early enough to take a look at how you are going to heat this winter and if you need help in what’s available and how you can become oil independent just give us a call and WoodMaster can assist you. WoodMaster furnaces keep winter's harshest chill away. Tell old man winter to visit your neighbor.

Topics: woodmaster stove, EPA, wood burning outdoor stove, outdoor wood heat, woodmaster, pellet furnace, EPA qualified furnace, EPA qualified, outdoor wood furnaces

Mass. Residents and Businesses to save big on pellet boilers.

Posted by Kelsey Loeffler on Wed,Apr 10,2013 @ 01:42 PM

pellet The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center announced that it is launching a $475,000 incentive program that will help residents install high-efficiency wood pellet boilers in their homes or small businesses.

The grants in this program will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis. Here are some qualifications:

-The installed boiler or furnace must be used in a year-round residence or small business where the building occupant pays into the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust.

-All applicants will need to provide MassCEC with a copy of an electric bill for the project site at the time of application so that MassCEC can verify eligibility.

 -Property owners may submit an application for a property that they own, even if it is not their primary residence or place of business, however the project site must be occupied year round.

 -Grants can be combined with any other local, state or federal incentive, and applicants are encouraged to do this where possible.

Grant amounts will be determined on the following basis, with further details available in the program manual, which can be found below.

Base Grant

Value

Wood-Pellet boiler and furnace central heating units (bulk storage required)

$7,000

Adders

 

Automated conveyance of fuel

$3,000

Thermal storage

$2,000

Solar thermal hybrid system

$1,000

Moderate Income Adder OR Moderate Home Value Adder

$2,000

Maximum Grant

$15,000


It’s possible to get back up to $15,000, though rebates will begin at $7,000 and the average is anticipated to be between $10,000 and $12,000. According to the MassCeC, new wood pellet boilers typically cost around $20,000, fully installed.

Massachusetts residents can learn more about the program, download the program guide and application by visiting the Clean Energy Center website.

Topics: woodmaster, flexfuel, energy-saving boiler, high efficiency furnace, energy-efficient stove, energy-efficient heating, pellet fuel, woodmaster flexfuel series, energy-saving stove, pellet furnace, Pellet furnaces, WoodMaster FlexFuel, EPA qualified furnace, EPA qualified, Flex Fuel

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

EPA: Why it matters to you, Vol. 1

Posted by Kelsey Gagner on Wed,Sep 28,2011 @ 11:16 AM

Together let’s keep our resources clean, safeEPA: what’s that?

The EPA has been around for 31 years now, and we’ve all heard it mentioned a time or two, but what is it exactly? Born in 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) aimed to “consolidate in one agency a variety of federal research, monitoring, standard-setting and enforcement activities to ensure environmental protection.”

From the start, EPA acted primarily as the nation’s environmental watchdog, ensuring that industries met legal requirements to control pollution. Later, EPA developed theory, tools and practices which allowed them to not only control pollution, but also prevent it from happening.

Today, EPA aims to “make sustainability the next level of environmental protection by drawing on advances in science and technology to protect human health and the environment, and promoting innovative green business practices.”

WoodMaster is EPA-savvy.

For hundreds of years, Americans have burned wood as a primary source of heat. Even though it’s the cleanest way to produce heat, burning wood does still affect the carbon footprint. Through the Hearth, Patio and Barbeque Association (HPBA), WoodMaster works closely with EPA on new testing standards and with state and local governments on appropriate regulations to encourage cleaner burning outdoor furnaces. WoodMaster and other responsible manufacturers are ensuring furnaces are properly installed to produce clean, safe heat.

Often thought of as a regulatory agency, the EPA enforces legislation pertaining to the American environment. Any potentially pollutant-emitting industry is subject to EPA regulation and inspection, and myriad industries work with the EPA to maintain high environmental standards. At WoodMaster, we fit into this category.

Measures like the Clean Air Act, Burn Wise Program and Outdoor Wood-fired Hydronic Heater Program are all EPA-enforced. WoodMaster products must meet the strict emission standards and offer consumers industry-leading efficiency. So, for us, staying updated on EPA standards and regularly testing products are important.

Picturing the future

Clean air. Clean water. Safe places to live and work. A beautiful natural environment. The EPA works to reduce overall pollution and unsafe practices in the U.S. so that future generations can continue to enjoy these luxuries.

‘EPA: Why it matters to you’ will be a continual series on Unplugged. Our goal is to teach you about the ‘who, what and why’ of EPA, how to make ‘cents’ of all the information out there and help you reach energy independency. 

 Up next: learn what it means to become EPA-Qualified.

Topics: eco-friendly, clean burning, Chuck Gagner, Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, woodmaster, flexfuel, high efficiency furnace, EPA qualified furnace, EPA qualified, Flex Fuel, wood master, northwest manufacturing, carbon footprint, clean burn, home heating, green technology

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