Friday, May 17, 2019

EPA releases long-awaited searchable wood heater database

A screen shot of part of the
navigation of different fuel types
in the new EPA database
Consumer friendly site is cause of worry for some

Updated April 9, 2020  - The EPA released its long-awaited searchable stove and central heater database, overhauling a decades-old practice of using basic excel sheet lists.  The database is now a very user friendly site for consumers and all stakeholders.  A simple search that could have taken hours, now takes seconds.

The EPA said the new database was designed to“improve accessibility and usefulness” by allowing users to search for the cleanest stoves, the most efficient stoves, those designed to burn cordwood and other attributes.

A wide range of stakeholders, from industry to states to non-profits, had been urging the EPA to switch to a modern searchable format for nearly a decade. The painfully slow development of the database at times seemed to epitomize the government's reputation to move at a snail’s pace. The list is maintained by the EPA’s Office of Enforcement, which like much of the EPA has been hit with repeated budget cuts and loss of staff in recent years.

The sleek new functionality of the list, allowing users to focus on one parameter or another, is also worrying to many in the stove industry. Traditionally, this list of certified wood heaters has not been a primary information source for consumers. But with this new functionality, consumers may start relying on it more and more, leading to some unintended results, such as worse buying decisions or ones that favor some manufacturers over others.  One feature that the old excel spreadsheets had that will be particularly missed by many was the clear designation of which stoves were newly added to the list each time it was updated.

One fear is that consumers will put too much reliance on higher BTU output if they can easily search and cross reference by these values. Right-sizing a stove is already problematic, and the BTU values on the list are overinflated due to loose parameters that allow labs to show high BTU output. Another fear, expressed by some manufacturers at the recent HPBA Expo in Nashville, is that consumers will favor “Cord Wood” stoves over “Crib Wood” stoves because they are not familiar with the lexicon of stove testing and the legacy of crib wood. This could lead to a surge in the sales – and reputation – of the 10 models that have been designed for and tested with cord wood. Other stakeholders welcome the feature, hoping that the companies who were among the first to invest in cord wood testing will benefit.

The EPA chose to include a box that helps consumers identify the cleanest and most efficient stoves,
and some say that this puts unwarranted attention to values that won’t necessarily translate from the lab to the home. This “Quick Searches” box will likely be used by consumers who don’t understand pellet stoves work similarly in the home as they do in the lab, but wood stoves can only achieve the optimal lab numbers with a large bed of coals, dry wood and careful operation.
This “certified fuel type” feature also sheds light on one the biggest problems with the new searchable data – accuracy. Six wood stoves were initially listed as using wood chips as a fuel, an apparent mistake according to one of the manufacturers of those stoves. As of April 2020, three stoves are still listed as being tested with wood chips, even though no such test method exists. This could hurt sales of those units if consumers are relying on the database to narrow down the stoves they may purchase. EPA staff are quick to say that this is a work in progress and it is incumbent on manufacturers to vet the list and provide the EPA with corrections. In 2017, the HPBA warned the EPA that many inaccuracies – such as stoves being listed as wood chip stoves – existed in the database. Many of the same errors are still listed two years later.

The Alliance for Green Heat welcomes the new database and had the opportunity to provide input on several occasions as other stakeholders did. Some of our suggestions and wording was adopted and some was not. AGH believes that the new database will help consumers become more educated about the working of stoves and the terminology, but it will take time and effort by the wood heating community.  AGH is currently urging the EPA to add a column showing what test method was used to identify single burn rate stoves and stoves that used an alternative test method.

The release of the database was coordinated with the update of some key pages on the EPA's Burn Wise website. The EPA finally changed their page on hydronic heaters which previously defined and pictured them just as outdoor boilers, a change that AGH had urged them to make for years. They also made major changes to their efficiency page which had not been updated since the EPA began requiring testing and reporting of efficiency of stoves.

Features and functions

·      Pellet stoves
The database shows 94 out of 171 pellet stove models are 2020 certified as of April 2020.  Forty of the 70 2020 compliant pellet stove models were 1 gram or under in May 2019, and as of April 2020, 51 of 94 models emitted one gram an hour or less.  

·      Catalytic Stoves
The database showed that 27 of the 68 2020 compliant wood stoves were catalytic in May 2019, and as of April 2020 there are still 27 models out of a total of 113, indicating a surge in successful non-cat certifications. 

·      Hybrid Stoves
Wood stoves are divided into three
subtypes - cat, non-cat and hybrid.
Hybrid stoves, which almost all use both catalysts and air tubes for secondary combustion, are listed as a subtype, but no stoves initially turned up in a search for that term.  As of April 2020,  there are 10 stoves listed as hybrid, 8 of which are 2020 certified. AGH is urging the EPA to also add “automated stoves” as a subtype in the future. Both hybrid and automated stoves offer great promise to help consumers run stoves more cleanly.

·     Cord vs. Crib wood
                  As of April 2020, 49 wood stoves that are 2020 certified
                  had been tested with cord wood and 61 tested with cribs.

      BTU Output
With tighter homes and a new breed of tiny homes, it is now easy to search for stoves with the lowest BTU output. Forty stoves, 20 wood and 20 pellet, were tested at less than 25,000 BTU. AGH believes that many units still have erroneously high BTU values based on loose parameters in lab testing and reporting, and these values should be used with great caution.  For wood stove, firebox size is probably a more accurate indicator of BTU output.

·      Efficiency
The EPA has chosen to use the term “overall efficiency” instead of simply “efficiency.” Some manufactures use “optimal efficiency” or “maximum efficiency” instead of publishing the EPA tested efficiency, which is lower. The database quickly shows, for example, that 37 of the 70 2020 compliant pellet stoves were 75% efficiency (HHV) or higher in May 2019, and 46 out of 94 are 75% or higher as of April 2020 – another great improvement compared to the performance of pellet stoves just 5 years ago.

·      Carbon monoxide
Nearly 150 stoves that are 2020 compliant have CO values showing a huge range from 0.0 to 6.1. Of the 23 stoves tested at less than 0.1 gram of CO per minute, all but 3 were pellet stoves as of May 2019. (The three wood stoves all tested with crib wood.) The carbon monoxide listing raised concern from some who worry that consumers may use it instead of PM as a primary indicator of cleanliness, or that consumers may think it’s an indication of amounts of CO emitted into the room.

·      In and out of production
The database showed 565 models in production as of May 2019 and 606 as of April 2020. It has 664 models that are out of production as of April 2020. And it has nearly 700 stoves that emit less than 4.5 grams but are out of production.

·      Previously certified
The database also shows the 205 stoves that were previously EPA certified at 4.6 grams or higher, a feature that could be very helpful for change out program managers who want to target older certified stoves, many of which need replacement.

·      Key terms and definitions
The EPA provides a new page with definitions of key terms such as adjustable burn rate vs. single burn rate heaters, fireplace insert, wood pellets, etc.

·      Central Heaters
The database is separated into two: “Room Heaters” and “Central Heaters” and you have to select one or the other or your search may turn up empty. There are only 12 central heaters that were 2020 compliant in May 2019, 11 of which use cord wood, and only 15 in April 2020, when 12 used cord wood and 3 used pellets.  While central heaters have had a harder time meeting the Step 2 requirements, many more have either been approved by labs or are in the pipeline to be 2020 compliant.  Efficiencies of pellet boilers are more complex because those that get listed with European test data are likely to show higher efficiencies, even though they are converted to HHV. 
·
Not included in the new database

Some stakeholders have urged the EPA to include more search attributes, such as the test method, lab, and a link to the detailed lab report that manufacturers are required to post on their websites. The list also does not say whether PFI certified pellets were used during certification testing and are thus technically required to be used by the consumer.  Up until 2007, list used to include the deadline that the five year certification certificate expired.  Up until the summer of 2015, the list included the outmoded estimated default efficiencies, which listed all non-cats at 63%, cats at 72% and pellet stoves at 78%.  The default efficiencies were set based on testing in the mid and late 1980s, resulting in relative accurate estimates for wood stoves, but helping to develop the enduring myth that pellet stoves had such high average efficiencies.

Contact Rafael Sanchez at the EPA's Office of Enforcement to address errors or omissions in the database, (sanchez.rafael@epa.gov) at (202) 564-7028.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

DOE offers funding for “state-of-the-art” residential wood and pellet heater R&D

Jonathan Male, Director of the Bioenergy
Technology Office at DOE, speaking at
the 2018 Wood Stove Design Challenge

Updated on Feb. 18, 2020 - The US Department of Energy has another $5 million set aside to fund development and testing of "low-emission, high efficiency residential wood heaters."

The announcement is part of a larger funding opportunity from the DOE’s Bioenergy Technology Office (BETO), which includes wood heaters because of a Congressional earmark. The DOE will provide up to $5 million in grants from $300,000 to $1,000,000. They expect to issue between 5 – 7 grants.

The timeline for applying is short and requires a concept paper to be submitted by March 5 as a precondition of submitting the full application on April 30, 2020. Applicants will be notified of funding decisions in July and funds will be disbursed in September. To get started, interested applicants should register with the EERE Exchange.

"The Alliance for Green Heat applauds the DOE bioenergy program for supporting innovation in the wood and pellet heater sector for a second year," said John Ackerly, President of the Alliance for Green Heat. "This funding will help kickstart a new wave of American innovation and ingenuity in wood heater design which is vital to keep wood and pellet heaters competitive with solar and other renewable technologies."

In response to last years funding announcement, the DOE selected only two companies – MF Fire and ISB Marketing – to receive $3 million for research and development. Both companies are focusing their efforts on how to make stoves cleaner in the hands of consumers through automation – not just in the test lab – which has become widely recognized as the Achilles heel for the millions of Americans who heat with cord wood.

The DOE appears to be trying to fund more than just tweaks and adjustments to traditionally-designed cat and non-cat stoves. Applications that can demonstrate genuine advancements toward state-of-the-art technology that ensure heaters burn well during start-up and reduce the opportunity for human error may have an edge.

Beyond merely preparing for traditional EPA testing, “applicants are encouraged to expand the testing regimen to evaluate performance over the full cycle of residential wood heater operating conditions (representative of how homeowners actually use their residential wood heaters with representative wood feedstocks).”

Areas of R&D interest

DOE listed four specific areas of interest, though other innovations are not excluded.

  • Novel and innovative residential wood heater designs
  • Improvements in automation of stoves
  • Wood heater power generation via thermoelectric module integration, and
  • Improvements in catalyst technologies
The second area, improvements in automation of stoves, includes robust sensing technologies and remote control and real-time performance monitoring. Wood and pellet stoves, boilers, and furnaces could all integrate sensors that monitor and control combustion conditions better. The DOE was a core funder of the 2018 Wood Stove Design Challenge that focused on automation and gave them insight into the potential of this area.

Eligibility

DOE has relatively broad eligibility requirements. Individuals, for-profit companies, non-profits, universities, and state, local, and tribal governments can all apply. Foreign entities and companies can also apply as long as they have a US office. Federal agencies and DOE labs, such as Brookhaven National Lab, are not eligible to be prime recipients but could be a sub-recipient of a grant. All work must be performed on US soil.

Cost Share

Applicants must provide 20% of the total project costs. The 20% can include in-kind services or cash from non-federal sources. Cost share may be provided by the prime recipient, subrecipients, or third parties.

Questions

All questions about the FOA must be submitted to: EERE-ExchangeSupport@hq.doe.gov. DOE personnel are prohibited from communicating directly with applicants. All questions and answers related to this FOA will be posted on EERE Exchange: https://eere-exchange.energy.gov.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Despite claims of "devastating" impact, wood stove industry positioned to meet new emission standards

With the Step 2 deadline for wood and pellet stoves just a year away, most stove manufacturers say they are ready or will be soon. Many retailers also say they are ready, while others prepare to deeply discount stoves that can't be sold after May 2020. Gone are the days when industry was trying to convince Congress and the Administration that EPA's new stove regulations would have a "devastating" impact. Such claims are common in Washington, as groups try to rally their base, but it can also lead to a diminished credibility for an industry association if the hyperbole goes too far.
From the start, it was clear that the boiler and furnace manufacturers needed relief far more than stove companies and retailers.  Heads of outdoor boiler companies and indoor wood boilers that cost less than the average wood stove were leaders of a campaign to get Congress to give all classes of heaters a three-year delay in meeting the new standards.  At the same time, the industry association Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) was challenging many of these standards in court, meaning a three-year delay could be permanent for some classes of heaters, if courts agreed with HPBA.  But it was never clear that stoves needed any delay and industry effort would have stalled innovation and efficiency improvements and put tens of thousands of families at higher risk of more wood smoke exposure.  The fallback position was that industry needed a two-year sell year, allowing manufacturers to sell Step 1 product during the fall and spring of 2019/2020, and retailers to sell Step 1 product until May 2022.  

At first, it appeared that the EPA under the current Administration was open to providing a two year  sell-through for stoves, but they have only issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for boilers and furnaces, not for stoves.  Theoretically, the EPA could still issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for a sell through for stoves but at this point it may be too late to provide any meaningful relief.

Many states pushed back strongly against watering down the NSPS and no state filed comments backing the Trump Administration's proposals.  States also began preparing their own plans in the event the EPA does change NSPS timelines, which could create a patchwork of regulations and more antagonistic relationships with a renewable energy industry.


If some manufacturers were not taking the 2020 deadline sufficiently seriously from 2016 - 2018, they are all likely to be doing so now.  Instead of focusing on government relief, HPBA's outreach to industry stakeholders is taking an a more urgent tone that everyone needs to focus on heeding the May 2020 deadline. However, almost all manufacturers were already focused on May 2020 for their own financial health and to assure their retailers that they are a reliable future partner.  And, many manufacturers and virtually all retailers already are well-diversified with gas fireplaces and stoves which often outsell their wood and pellet appliances.

The list of stove manufacturers who are ready for 2020, almost are or “well-positioned” to be 2020 ready grows by the week. As of May 1, they include:  APR Industries, Blaze King, Even Temp, ExtraFlame, Foyers, Heat Tech, Hearthstone, Innovative Hearth Products, Jotul, Kuma, Laminoux, MF Fire, Napoleon, Pacific Energy, Rais, Regency, Roby, RSF Fireplaces, SBI, Stuv, Supreme, Thelin, Travis and Woodstock Soapstone.  Hearth & Home Technologies, by far the largest manufacturer, says a majority of its stoves will be 2020 certified this year.

The 2020 deadline will undoubtedly be tough for much of the industry, but it remains to be seen if it’s tougher than lean shipment years such as 2007 and 2012.  Overall, the threat to industry does not appear to be as serious as industry claimed even a year ago.  The 2020 deadline is also bringing about benefits. some foreseen and others not. Some retailers still have stocks of Step 1 stoves and there is likely to be some heavily discounted stoves in the final year leading up to the deadline.  Retailers are still ordering some Step 1 stoves, but in much smaller quantities.  Many retailers are only buying Step 2 stoves but may face still competition from fire sales of Step 1 stoves by competitors.  Sending Step 1 stoves to Canada could have been a good outlet, but the more populous Canadian provinces have either adopted the 2020 deadline or are in the process of doing so. Other foreign countries are still a good option.  Most big box stores have the buying power to protect themselves by requiring manufacturers to buy back unsold inventory, influence that specialty hearth retailers don't have. 


Over the last six months, HPBA has developed more clear and insistent messaging for retailers and is using social media more to get the message across.  A facebook post outlined 5 things retailers need to know to survive the NSPS. Included is also a fear that in the race to meet the 2 gram an hour standard, some manufacturers may be putting out stoves that haven't been sufficiently beta-tested and simply won't work well in the real world.  This could jeopardize retailers who unknowingly carry those stoves.  HBPA urged retailers to test the stoves themselves, before selling them to customers, a tall order for retailers over the summer season.  The message for consumers is that the next twelve months will be a buyers’ market with unprecedented sales and discounts of Step 1 products

For the most part, the hyperbole from industry that consumers would be priced out of new stoves and there would be very little variety of product on floors, is not materializing.  Some manufacturers that were well known for disparaging catalytic stoves are now embracing them, swelling the ranks of "hybrid" stoves that only mention the catalyst in the fine-print. Presumably, this new crop of hybrids learned the tough lessons of the 80s and 90s, and their catalyst are well protected from flame impingement.


The 2020 deadline is also providing industry a gradual transition to cordwood testing, as some manufacturers opt to test with it.  Some groups idealistically hoped for a far quicker transition to cordwood.  Stoves tested with cordwood can emit up to 2.5 grams an hour, although many of them are coming in under 2 grams.  Despite messaging in advertisements from HPBA that it "shares the same goals as regulators," the 2.5 gram an hour standard for cordwood is one of the many emission standards that HPBA is challenging in federal court.  The many delays to the lawsuit may make it tougher for HPBA if enough stove models come in under 2.5 grams an hour using the broadly applicable alternative ASTM cordwood test method.

Many stakeholders are already looking past the 2020 deadlines toward the next NSPS, which by law should be scheduled in 2023.  Whenever the 2015 NSPS is superseded, there is likely to be intense controversies over certification protocols for cordwood testing and a timeline for all stoves to be tested with cordwood.  Key northeastern states believe the consensus driven ASTM Method is deeply flawed and are working behind the scenes on new test methods.


Unlike the 1988 wood heater NSPS that decimated the ranks of small stove manufacturers, the 2015 NSPS does not appear to be forcing manufacturers out of business. The 1988 regulations drastically improved the functioning, safety, cleanliness and efficiency of stoves while also driving up prices of those that were not claimed to be exempt.  The question remains whether the 2015 NSPS will significantly improve the functionality of stoves as they become cleaner and more efficient in the lab. Pellet stoves may the winners as their lab numbers should hold up in homes of consumers, a significant benefit that is rarely acknowledged by most in industry.  We can all agree that there will be both intended and unintended consequences which will take years to unfold.  Stay tuned.

March 11, 2020 update: The EPA finalized amendments to the 2015 NSPS and did not provide a retailer sell-through.  They did remove pellet fuel minimum requirements but retained the list of prohibited fuels in the 2015 NSPS.