Monday, November 19, 2018

Results of the 2018 Wood Stove Design Challenge

 By John Ackerly

The first day of testing, showing Ben Myren Prof.
Phil Hopke and Rebecca Trojanowski.
Photo: Kittner/BNL.
Conducting rigorous and transparent field testing of thirteen stoves in five days is a feat that is unheard of in the wood stove community.  The goals were also unique: fairly test stoves against one another with cordwood; help each team to improve their units and help educate a wider public about novel stove technologies that challenge how we think about the traditional, manually operated EPA certified wood stove.

The 2018 Wood Stove Design Challenge took place from Nov. 9 - 13, featuring 10 stoves in competition and 3 showcase stoves. The stoves were selected and judged by members of the
Large screen monitors provided real time data during
a test run of the Integrated Duty Cycle fueling
protocol under development. Photo: Kittner/BNL
Organizing Committee.  The Alliance for Green Heat (AGH) was the principal architect, organizer and host of the event.  Each of the 10 competition stoves received a $10,000 grant made possible by the DOE's Bioenergy Technology Office.

The Wittus team from New York
and Germany. Photo: Kittner/BNL
In the automation stove category, there were three market ready stoves that successfully went through a rigorous fueling protocol and proved that they could burn relatively cleanly and efficiently even when an operator tried to turn down the heat setting too far and at the wrong times.  An SBI stove and the VcV stove that had been in development for many years showed the value of multi-year R&D and testing, resulting in stoves that may only cost $500 more than a similar,
Staffers from EPA, DOE, USDA and Congressional
offices were able to learn about stove testing and
 engage with teams and judges. Photo: AGH

non-automated version.  To us, this is a major breakthrough and stoves like these should show a path to far cleaner cord wood heating in America.  

The SBI team. Photo: Kittner/BNL
The other automated stove was a German-American unit that heated water, made electricity and provided a living room fire experience with a downdraft flame into a lower chamber. While this was not an affordable stove to most Americans, it could have a reasonable pay-back over a number of years, depending on the users cord wood price.  This stove startled both the Brookhaven National Lab and the Masonry Heater Association testing teams with ultra-low carbon monoxide numbers in the single digits, and ultra-high efficiency in the condensing range.  

An automated pellet boiler by Maine Energy Systems capped with a Stirling Engine was the most
A Tesla owned by Osprey Foundation head, Bill Clarke,
 being charged by Maine Energy System pellet 
boilers with a Stirling engine. Photo: Kittner/BNL
futuristic of the entries, especially since it was charging a Tesla car in front of the tent. This compact unit could heat a business or multi-family dwelling and provide 5 kW of electricity.  

The five testing teams used different equipment
to gather a variety of data. Photo: Kittner/BNL
On the thermoelectric side, the judges concluded that “the most innovative thing is that almost all teams used commercially available thermoelectric modules and showed that it is feasible to generate useful electrical energy without sacrificing the energy efficiency or impeding the heat quality of
This is a Swiss-made electrostatic precipitator for
residential wood stoves that reduced PM by 50 -
90% in our testing.
the wood stove.  Most designs returned the waste heat after electricity generation into useful radiant heat into the room to increase efficiency.  These designs prove that the woodstoves is a good potential commercial opportunity for thermoelectrics to generate useful electrical energy and increase the overall efficiency of the wood stoves and also increase their commercial appeal for consumers.”

It was clear that stoves or boilers with Thermoelectric Generators (TEG) could produce 100 to 250 watts of power. While this is a relatively modest amount of electricity, larger automated stoves or boilers operating 15 to 20 hours per day could help supplement limited solar power output during winter months. 

Fred Legget of Vulcan Energy 
with a TEG adapted to a Wiseway.
Photo: Kittner/BNL
The George Washington University, Unforgettable Fire and ASAT teams all successfully used off the shelf technology, while TEG expert Fred Leavitt of Vulcan Energy used commercially available TEGs by Hi-Z, and adapted the gravity fed Wiseway pellet stove to get a more steady 130 watt output. 

The Wittus cord wood stove was by far the most market ready and was able to make 250 watts, and it peaked at over 300 when using low moisture pressed wood logs.  Ken Adler, AGH’s Program Director of Thermoelectrics, coordinated 
the thermoelectric side of the competition and the thermoelectric testing.

Scoring was done using a numeric rubric based mostly on data produced by the testing equipment but judges did have discretion to award some points based on their subjective assessment in several areas.  Judges assessed automated stoves by these criteria and thermoelectric stoves by these.

And the awards goes to …

·     First Prize for automated stoves: Wittus.  Great performance on particulate matter, CO, efficiency and safety.
Dusty Henderson of 509 Fabrications. 
Photo: Kittner/BNL
·     Second prize for automated stoves: SBI. A fully automated non-catalytic
The Wittus team won both first prizes.
Photo: Kittner/BNL
stove using only 2 sensors that may only cost $500 more than if it were non-automated.
·     First prize for thermoelectric stoves: Wittus - again;  The highest electric output of up to 250 watts, and an integrated design that can maintain stable electric output.
Stove testers Tom Butcher, Jake Lindbeg, Rebecca 
Trojanowski Photo: Kittner/BNL
·     Second prize for thermoelectric: Vulcan Energy, using the Wiseway pellet stove that produced more than 100 watts and good PM reduction.
·     Innovation prize: SBI, for simplicity.  The use of only one thermocouple and a sensor on the door, enabled the designers to regulate the stove despite attempts by the testers to turn the heat demand down and make it perform poorly. 
·     The People’s Choice Award: 509 Fabrications.  Despite being a new, small company without an extensive social media network, the 509 Fabrications pressed log stove was a consumer favorite, garnering more votes than any other stove. 
The MHA testing crew: Ron Pihl, Jim 
Schales, Norbert Senf, Jim Seymour 
and Boris Kukojl. Photo: MHA

Unique and rigorous testing

The 2018 Wood Stove Design Challenge pushed the limits of rigorous wood stove testing both in terms of the amount and variety of technology used, and the fueling protocol, which is far more rigorous than any standard fueling protocol.   More details about this will be forthcoming.  Data produced by this event will show the extent to which automated stoves can navigate fueling protocols where testers try to make stoves go into smolder mold, to see if the automation is robust enough to avoid that.  Data is also more valuable for understanding real world venting conditions, as EPA approved test labs terminate in a warm indoor space, not the colder outdoors.  

Real time emission displays allowed testers teams
and judges to learn more about performance patterns.
This shows exceptional  CO and stack temps on the
Wittus. Photo: Senf
Between Brookhaven National Lab and the Masonry Heater Association, we had up to 5 separate testing teams, allowing many stoves to be tested at once.  We
Jonathan Male, head of DOE's Bioenergy
Technologies Office introducing the awards
Photo: Kittner/BNL
also wanted to have ensure that the Brookhaven and MHA teams could  periodically test the same stove at the same time.  Norbert Senf of the MHA had worked for months to automate the Condar, and the new Condar controls worked very  well, with minimal glitches. They did  4 runs simultaneously with Brookhaven National Laboratory who used a new NESCAUM equipment setup (diluter and TEOM) that has been proofed against EPA. Comparisons of the two approaches will be published at some point.

Air quality testing during the Design Challenge

During the Challenge, we monitored indoor and outdoor air quality to get some sense of the impact
Tinted stove pipe donated by Olympia Chimney, 
showing mostly invisible smoke during the event
Photo: Kittner/BNL

from 9 – 13 wood and pellet stoves operating under one roof.  We used a Thermo Scientific PDF1500, an Speck PM monitor and a Purple Air monitor.  Results were mixed, with most indoor readings between 20 - 35 micrograms per cubic meter, but with far higher spikes.  Outdoor numbers were usually around
Les Otten, right, with Maine Energy Systems
Okofen Pelletmatic E-max CHP unit. Photo: MYSys
10 micrograms per cubic meter. Often the Speck showed  moderate to elevated inside the tent, but on several occasions, prototype stoves released excessive smoke into the tent – and outside of it.  We will issue a more detailed report on this. 

A note of gratitude

Julie Tucker of the USDA Forest Service, with
DOE's Jonathan Male and  AGH's John Ackerly
Photo: Kittner/BNL
 The Wood Stove Design Challenge is a collaborative process involving three major donors - the Department of Energy's Bioenergy Technology Office, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and Osprey Foundation- and scores of in-kind and volunteer partners.  Olympia
Chimney and Masonry Heater Association were key in-kind partners, along contributions by West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund, HPBA, Schott-Robax, Lignetics, Chimney Safety Institute of America, Society for American Foresters, National Fireplace Institute, Catalytic Hearth Coalition, Biolite local sweeps and installers and others were key in enabling the event to occur.