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
Funding can help manufacturers meet 2020 emission standards

Updated on May 9 - For the first time, the US Department of Energy issued a funding announcement to support the development of innovative, state-of-the art technology in residential wood and pellet stoves and central 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 June 3 as a precondition of submitting the full application on July 22, 2019.

The funding is timely as it could assist wood stove, boiler and furnace manufacturers in developing heaters that meet the EPA’s 2020 emission standards. Funding is available for research and development on innovative heater design, not just for certification lab testing. Thus, manufacturers who may have delayed R&D could benefit from this grant the most, compared to those who already have a nearly full line of 2020 compliant heaters. Manufacturers can bring Step 2020 compliant heaters to market any time before or after the May 15, 2020 deadline. Funding from the DOE is expected to last for 2 – 3 years, covering work completed in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

Many manufacturers are in the midst of completing their testing prior to the May 2020 deadline, but innovation will not end after that. Many manufacturers will initially be offering a smaller variety of models and add more to their product lines based on market conditions.  

"The Alliance for Green Heat applauds the DOE bioenergy program for moving beyond funding for biofuels and supporting innovation in the wood and pellet heater sector," said John Ackerly, President of the Alliance for Green Heat. "This funding and hopefully more in the future could 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."

The US is a world leader in manufacturing clean wood stoves, but behind European countries when it comes to efficient pellet stoves and wood and pellet central heaters. Most European governments have invested in R&D in biomass heaters, leaving US manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage.

R&D to design cleaner stoves and perform internal testing before sending the stoves to a certification lab constitutes one of the biggest expenses for manufacturers striving to meet 2020 emission targets. If this DOE funding had come two years earlier, it could have played a far greater role in assisting wood heater manufacturers, some of whom are cash-strapped as they must redesign their entire line of stoves and central heaters. 

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.

The requirements of the application process include baseline emissions data matched with design change concepts that could substantially lower emissions and increase efficiency. These and other requirements are likely to make it tougher for smaller entities that do not have sophisticated internal labs or certified Step 1 stoves to apply within the short application timelines. Any company that has Step 1 products with baseline data showing they are within the 2015 Step 1 emission standards are eligible if their R&D ideas could achieve the DOE's requirements of a 50 – 80% reduction in emissions and a 5 – 15% increase in efficiency.

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).” 

The awards will be substantial but widely dispersed among 10 areas within the bioenergy field. “At DOE, we are focused on expanding America’s energy supply, growing the economy, and enhancing energy security, which will all be furthered by the significant advancements made in bioenergy technologies,” said Under Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes. “The funding opportunities announced today will help ensure our nation’s competitive advantage in the emerging bioeconomy and allow us to continue to offer U.S. consumers and businesses more homegrown energy choices.”

Areas of R&D interest

DOE listed four specific areas of interest, though other innovations are not excluded.
Automation of wood
stoves using sensors
is one of key areas of
interest for the DOE
  • 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 first area, novel and innovative heater designs, encompasses changes to the combustion chamber, combustion air flow and baffle designs. It could be challenging for the DOE panel reviewing applications to distinguish between more traditional design changes and novel ones in this area, as either one could result in emissions under 2 grams an hour.

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.

The third area covers producing electricity from thermoelectric technology, an area that the DOE also explored through the 2018 Wood Stove Design Challenge.

Lastly, the fourth interest area is improvements in catalyst technology, which appears to cover R&D in the making of catalyst manufacturing as well as their integration into heaters.

Time-line

The timeline is tight and successful applications for similar DOE funding opportunities often do much of the work prior to the release of the funding announcement. The 4-page concept papers are due on June 3, and only applicants who submitted concept papers can submit a full application due on July 22. The DOE expects to notify applicants by September 30 and issue awards in October and November, which is in the DOE’s 2020 fiscal year. Deadlines and other requirements are strictly enforced, and the DOE will not consider applications that stray from the guidelines.


Applicants are strongly encouraged to register and sign on to the DOE's Exchange System at least a few days before submitting a concept paper, so registration issues can be averted ahead of time.

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: FY19BETOMultiTopicFOA@ee.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.

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