Thursday, September 4, 2014

U.S. Forest Service to Support Project to Redesign the Wood Stove

The U.S. Forest Service is known mostly for managing forests, but they are branching out to help focus on how cleanly wood can be burned to heat homes.  The Forest Service’s “Rural Revitalization Through Forestry” program is providing a 2-year $25,000 grant to support the “Next Generation Wood Stove Design Challenge,” that aims to find cost-effective ways to reduce smoke from wood stoves through automation. 

The Challenge is a coalition effort led by the Alliance for Green Heat, a Maryland based non-profit.  This fall the coalition is gathering at Brookhaven National Lab to assess and test automated wood stoves, where consumers load the wood and leave – and let computers maximize efficiency and minimize pollution.

“Residential heating with wood offers Americans a homegrown source of renewable energy that not
Julie Tucker, National Lead for Wood
Energy at the US Forest Service with
Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell
only saves them money, but keeps their energy dollars local.  This is particularly important for rural communities that have few options to turn to for their energy needs.”  said Julie Tucker, National Lead for Wood Energy at the U.S. Forest Service.  “The Wood Stove Design Challenge offers a tremendous opportunity to develop the most efficient and cleanest burning residential wood stoves for people who are looking for an alternative to high cost fossil fuel heating” Tucker said.

The initiative is looking at high tech solutions, regulatory barriers to cleaner stoves, consumer preferences and the ability of an industry to adapt to new technology.

The Wood Stove Design Challenge helps design and organize forums for manufacturers, innovators, and university teams to work on modernizing biomass stoves.   Automated wood stoves being developed and fine-tuned for the November event are coming from Indiana, Maryland, Connecticut, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand and China.  While they are competing against each other to see which is cleanest, most efficient and most error proof, the designers are also coming to share their insights and technology with other teams and participants from the US stove industry.  

One of the coalition leaders is Mark Knaebe, a wood combustion specialist at the USDA Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin.  Knaebe is working on a highly innovative prototype of a condensing wood stove that could significantly reduce emissions and increase efficiency compared to existing stoves.  Knaebe will be helping to assess the automated stoves at Brookhaven Lab in November.

All nine states in the Northeast experienced a 50% jump in the number of households that rely on wood as the main heating source from 2005 to 2012 (Energy Information Agency 2014).  Nationally, the surge in wood heating since 2000 has been a welcomed turn around for the pellet and firewood industry, and for reducing fossil fuel usage. 

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