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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PA's Caledonia State Park installs Flex Fuel heating system.

Posted by Kelsey Loeffler on Tue,Aug 13,2013 @ 01:29 PM

WoodMaster Flex FuelCaledonia State Park is the first Pennsylvania State Park to go green with a WoodMaster Flex Fuel heating system.   WoodMaster is one of the leading manufacturers of indoor/outdoor wood boilers that meet EPA Phase II standards.   They have teamed up with European technologies and are now manufacturing the Flex Fuel in Minnesota. 

Craig Doyle, WoodMaster’s local distributor and owner of Doyle’s Woodstoves in Greencastle, PA, installed the Flex-Fuel-60 Series boiler and then invited WoodMaster’s technical representative from their Minnesota headquarters to come to Caledonia State Park to demonstrate this new boiler installation and to train Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR) staff in its proper start-up, operation, and maintenance.  The system will be used as the primary heat source for the Park’s maintenance facility and the Pennsylvania Forest Fire Museum located next door. 

The goal of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is to use wood heat to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and for energy diversity.  The Flex-Fuel-60 Series boiler is a downdraft gasification system capable of burning cordwood or wood pellets.   Wood pellets offer low and stable pricing, compared to fossil fuels which tend to be more price volatile.  An 8.5 ton pellet bin has been installed to automatically feed pellets to the boiler.  The bulk delivery of wood pellets will come from locally produced sources.  The option to burn cordwood gives the Park the flexibility to use hazardous trees removed along the Park’s roads and trails, thus providing visitor safety as well as conserving forest resources. 

Downdraft gasification technology ensures that the wood fuel will be burned virtually smoke-free while displacing the pollutants produced from burning conventional fuel heating oil.  During the combustion process, the heat produced will be captured in four 285 gallon insulated hot water storage tanks.  That hot water will be circulated throughout the buildings for heat.  Hot water thermal storage helps ensure that the wood boiler will not smoke like conventional outdoor wood stoves.  Instead, burn wood fuels with a hot fire and capture as much heat energy in hot water storage tanks, avoiding the need to damper-down the combustion process for a smaller or “cooler” fire.  When the buildings demand heat, thermal energy will be there in the hot water storage tanks.  

The Central Pennsylvania Conservancy (CPC) was a great partner during the installation of this new heating system.  As a “Friend of the Park”, Anna Yelk, Executive Director for the CPC, administered a $50,000 grant received from the USDA Forest Service for the purchase and installation of the WoodMaster Flex Fuel heating system.  Paula DeVore, Park Manager for the DCNR Bureau of State Parks - Resource Management and Planning Division and Michael Palko, Biomass Energy Specialist for the DCNR, Bureau of Forestry, played key roles in working with the CPC and WoodMaster to coordinate this project.  The CPC’s mission is to conserve natural resources and open spaces for the benefit of current and future generations through land acquisition, conservation easements, education and outreach in the Central Pennsylvania Region.  Visit their website at www.centralpaconservancy.org.

WoodMaster's Flex Fuel 60 Series boiler fit all the requirements for the grant.  It is qualified and is currently the cleanest product listed on the EPA Burn Wise site. It is reliable, dependable, and offers full automation and self-cleaning features.  Burning wood produces no net increase in greenhouse gas emissions, reduces U.S. dependence on foreign oil, and brings jobs and revenue back into our local economies.

Doyle’s Woodstoves LLC, owned and operated by Craig and Diana Doyle in Greencastle, PA, offers a full line of WoodMaster products such as indoor/outdoor wood boilers, whole house pellet furnaces, pellet grills, and small commercial boilers for greenhouses and poultry/hog farms.  Contact Doyle’s Woodstoves LLC at doyleswoodstoves@gmail.com.

Topics: residential wood heat, woodmaster, flexfuel, pellet fuel, woodmaster flexfuel series, pellet furnace, Pellet furnaces, WoodMaster FlexFuel, Flex Fuel, renewable fuel, alternative heating, renewable energy

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

Wood/Solar Combination Heating

Posted by Kelsey Loeffler on Thu,Mar 21,2013 @ 09:42 AM

Certified WoodMaster dealer, Kim Quirk with Energy Emporium, shares the following article relating to a recent Flex Fuel install.

Here in New England many home owners have their own source of wood they can use to heat their home. Or, they may decide that local wood or pellets can replace fossil fuels helping them achieve a level independence from foreign oil.

Working with a few of these customers, I have had the opportunity to put together combination wood and solar heating systems for both home heating and domestic hot water.

Burning wood or pellets in a highly efficient gasification boiler will provide more heat then a typical home can use each hour…especially in the spring and fall. So many of the new wood or pellet boilers recommend (or even require) a large water storage tank.

Solar hot water systems also require a water storage tank because the sun can only provide heat during the day. That heat needs to be saved until it is required.

Since both systems can benefit from a water storage tank, then it makes sense and can save money to design one storage system that can be heated by either energy source. The wood does most of the heating in the winter; and the sun for the summer. The heated water can provide house heating, which we only need in the winter, and domestic hot water, which we need year round.

The Energy Emporium recently installed a large, very well insulated, 2000 gallon water tank from American Solar Technics that is heated with both solar (Sunda evacuated tubes) and a gasification wood boiler (WoodMaster’s FlexFuel30).

Solar / Wood storage tank

Solar / Wood storage tank

Wood/Pellet Boiler

Wood/Pellet Boiler

Solar Thermal Collectors

Solar Thermal Collectors

In the pictures above, the storage tank is in the process of being completed. Once the liner is sealed, 3-4″ insulation is added on top and then a final layer of 2″ foam board will be added on all sides.

The Woodmaster Flexfuel is used with cord wood or pellets. It can decide to start or stop the burn (for pellets) based on temperatures it reads in the water storage tank. It can also block out some times (daytime, for instance) when it will not burn so the sun has the chance to do as much heating as possible.

The solar thermal collectors were built in two rows with northern row 3′ higher than the southern row to avoid shading. The angle is optimized for winter heat production. Each solar collector array has its own coil in the storage tank.

We added datalogging equipment on the solar loops and temperature sensors at 3 places in the tank as well as the boiler in and out. Over time we can report on the efficiencies of cord wood versus pellets and how much energy the sun is adding to this tank. The expectation is that in the spring, summer, and fall the solar collectors will provide most of the heating.

In the image below, the green line indicates the temperature of the storage tank. The red and blue are temperatures of the heat exchanger and the shaded red area indicates that heat is being transferred to the storage tank. Notice that, even in February, when we have a nice sunny day, the solar heating between about 9:30am and 3:30pm was able to boost the 2000 gallon tank temperature. At about 5pm the pellets kicked back in to boost the water temperature for the evening.

Solar Hot Water Data

Solar Hot Water Data

Topics: bioenergy flex fuel furnace, woodmaster, woodmaster flexfuel series, WoodMaster FlexFuel, Flex Fuel, alternative fuel, affordable heating, alternative home heating

How one WoodMaster dealer helps people get off the grid...for good

Posted by Kelsey Gagner on Tue,Feb 28,2012 @ 02:45 PM


describe the imageMarc Spinale’s first venture with alternative energy began when he constructed his own solar panel at just seven years old.

Now, he’s started Grid be Gone, a company that sells products to help people become less dependent on the power grid—products that now include WoodMaster stoves.

“My vision is that all people can live in an energy-independent way, and my goal is to offer products and services to help people get there,” says Marc.

After launching Grid Be Gone in spring of 2011, Marc began researching a heating option that would fit his company’s niche. He found WoodMaster and has never looked back.

“With WoodMaster stoves, customers can burn a convenient pellet fuel or, if they live in a rural area, utilize the resources in their own backyard to generate their heat for free.”

Marc has been selling the WoodMaster Flex Fuel Series since July 2011 and plans to start carrying pellet furnaces, including the WoodMaster Force/Renovator Natural Energy heating systems, in the coming months.

Marc says he has had a lot of interest in the stoves so far. People are most excited by the fact that they can burn multiple fuels in the same stove and that they are made in the U.S., he says.

Besides being able to offer his customers a green product that helps lower their heating costs, for Marc, one of the greatest rewards of being a dealer is simply working with the folks at WoodMaster.

“They provide top-notch support to their dealers, and you know they’re standing behind their products,” says Marc. “Working with WoodMaster has allowed me to enter the industry with confidence.”

Grid Be Gone currently sells products through an online store and website, but in spring 2012, customers will be able to check out the stoves in person at his new retail store in downtown Peterborough, N.H.

Visit Grid Be Gone’s Facebook page to see pictures of Marc and his crew installing
WoodMaster stoves and stay updated on the latest energy-efficient trends.

Topics: grid be gone, renovator natural heating system, dealer spotlight, woodmaster force, New Hampshire WoodMaster dealer, north pack renewables, get off grid, green products, marc spinale, woodmaster, energy-efficient heating, pellet fuel, woodmaster flexfuel series, wood master, WoodMaster Dealer, energy independence, lower heating costs

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