Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Trends in pellet heating in Europe in 2021

Excerpts of a statistical report from Bioenergy Europe and the European Pellet Council




This pellet statistical report is produced by Bioenergy Europe, a “non-profit, Brussels-based international organisation bringing together 41 associations and 122 companies, as well as academia and research institutes from across Europe.”  We find it extremely valuable and timely, in part because it shows the extensive use of domestic and imported pellets for residential and institutional heating.   

 

News coverage in North America almost exclusively focuses on the industrial pellets exported for electric generation, primarily in UK.  This report shows a much broader and more diverse pellet market that also relies on premium heating pellets, which are made by plants using far more residuals than the plants operated by companies such as Enviva which are now relying extensively on whole logs.


AGH calls on the scientific community, environmental groups, policy makers and the media to look at the end use of pellets, and the highly variable carbon impact of using pellets at 80% efficiency, compared to 35% efficiency.


Bioenergy Europe released parts of their report to the general public, which can be downloaded here where many of the sections are blurred. We only excerpted portions of this report below that deal with pellets used for heating.


Forward (excerpts)


The sales of residential pellets heating appliances showed very encouraging trends in countries like Germany, France and Austria, proving that, when the governments actively invest in phasing out fossil fuels, pellet systems directly appear as a credible, affordable and sustainable solution. In 2021 we have been recording even more encouraging sales in those countries. 


First, the 2020- 2021 heating season lasted much longer than usual, which, together with homeworking requirements in many countries, led to an increased pellet use in the residential market. Secondly, this long heating season, coupled with high electricity prices, encouraged many industrial operators to use more pellets than usual. … it is incredibly impressive to see how pellet prices compare to fossil fuel prices, which are currently hitting historical record highs. Together with increasing appliance sales, this shows again how bioenergy can help to fight energy poverty in Europe. 

 

World pellet consumption (excerpts)

In North America, the use of pellet has not witnessed a dramatic growth in the recent years despite different initiatives to grow the market both in US and Canada. Still, a niche market is consolidating its expansion: the pellet barbecues. The increasing sales of these barbecues lead to increasing sales of high margin pellets (e.g. 3 producers of 10.000 tonnes in Canada). 

In South America, the use of pellet, mostly for residential and mid-scale heat production, is expected to grow in the future 

European pellet consumption for heating 

The annual increase of the pellet demand in the residential/commercial sector was smaller in 2020 than in 2019: +3,8% in 2020 (vs 2019) and +5% in 2019 (vs 2018). It can be explained by the fact that 2018 has benefited from fairly good heating seasons while 2019 was deeply impacted by the low 2019-2020 heating season and a low start of 2020-2021 heating season. Furthermore, the not so strong increase in sales of heating appliances did not compensate for this low demand. Despite this, France and Serbia are highlighted as growing examples, as they have both registered the biggest increase (in absolute terms) in residential/commercial pellet consumption. 

Still, in 2020, the residential and commercial consumption increased together by 152.339 tonnes. Commercial pellet demand decreased in 2020 (-4%) while the residential showed a weak growth (+2%) and in absolute terms: + 289.686 tonnes for residential use and -137.287 tonnes for commercial use. 

 Heating degree days (HDD) is used as a proxy to estimate the heating energy needs - the higher the HDD for a season, the higher the need for heating. Therefore, we can see that the heating season of 2012-2013 was generally characterised by colder temperatures (i.e. higher HDD), creating some disruption on the pellet market that was not fully prepared, leading to market tensions and even small shortages. For this reason, pellet market players then tried to organise themselves to prevent this situation from repeating itself by increasing their production and stock. Unfortunately, from 2013 to 2016, Europe experienced three consecutive mild winters, leading to a rather disappointing growth of pellet consumption in the heat market inducing the accumulation of pellet stock in some regions. Thankfully, the following heating seasons were colder, resulting in better pellet use for heat showing a growth of around 12% over the 2016- 2017 period. 

This sudden rise in consumption generated again some tensions in the supply leading to shortage in some areas and generating a price increase in 2018. The heating season of 2018-2019 was slightly milder than the previous ones but only marginally colder than the ones from 2013 to 2016, leading to a modest growth of the pellet consumption for heating. The 2019-2020 season followed the same pattern as the previous season and a reduction in consumption also appeared. The 2020-2021 season started very similarly to the previous but then lasted for much longer. Indeed, in many areas, the energy demand was still rather high in March and April, which unexpectedly supported the pellet demand, allowing most of the market players to empty their stock. 

Residential Pellet Consumption



European stove market 

[The full report contains a para on each country, but the following 3 countries were the only ones included in the public facing report. - Ed]

Portugal: The installation of pellet boilers and stoves reached a peak in the winter of 2019-2020. The producers consider that, in the upcoming years, the number of installations will be steady with tendency to decrease in 2025 due to the competition with heat pumps. 

Serbia: A huge increase of pellet stoves and boilers is the result of a huge number of schools (over 200), kindergartens, health care centres and other public and commercial buildings that have switched from coal and heating to pellets. Since 2019, the government of Serbia has supported a vast number of public buildings in replacing heating oil and coal with wood pellets leading to sales increase. 

Spain: The market trends in 2020 were worse than in 2019 with a 16% decrease in the annual sales of pellets stoves. During the pandemic, the installations of stoves have been impacted due to the limited availability of installers, while sales greatly recovered in the second part of the year. 2021 should be rather similar while 2022 and beyond should be more favorable as Renewable Energies supports, and recovery funds will be put into place. 

European residential boiler market


Further reading:

Friday, November 19, 2021

Consumers can now rely on almost all stove tax credit certificates issued by manufacturers

A sampling of tax credit certificates
issued by various manufacturers
 
After ten years, almost all stove and boiler manufacturers appear to be accurately informing their consumers about which models are eligible for the tax credit for wood heaters that are at least 75% efficient.  Some outlets, such as We Love Fire, a network of 280 hearth retailers, go out of their way to educate customers on how to ensure the stove they are buying qualifies for the credit and urges them to check the EPA’s database.

There was widespread exaggeration and misleading advertising about stove efficiencies in the preceding decade, and the EPA did not require wood and pellet stove manufacturers to disclose the efficiency of their models, or even to test for it until 2015.


Consumers are often advised to download the manufacturer certificate and keep it in their files, along with the receipt for the stove, as proof that they properly took the credit.  However, the IRS does not require manufacturer certificates, and a screenshot of the EPA database, showing an efficiency of at least 75% for your model is even better documentation.

 

When Congress passed the new, higher tax credit legislation in 2020, they specified that the minimum 75% efficiency level must be measured using the higher heating value (HHV), eliminating previous ambiguity. However, Congress did not specifically refer to the EPA’s database, which lists the HHV efficiency of all stoves, boilers and furnaces.  Almost all of industry accepts the EPA database should be used to confirm efficiencies and encourages consumers to check it.  The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA), the industry’s largest association, broke from its past practice and took a strong position that consumers should rely on the EPA database to determine efficiency.

 

The Ashley line of stoves is owned 
by US Stove, which issued this
current certificate.
AGH reviewed scores of certificates issued by stove and boiler manufacturers by brands such as Hearthstone, Jotul, Lopi, Quadrafire and many others and found for the first time that they all were providing their consumers accurate information.  We found only one stove manufacturer, US Stove Company, still willing to list stoves as qualifying for the tax credit that are under 75% efficient.  US Stove issued a certificate saying that four of its pellet stove models qualified for the credit despite test reports from third party EPA-approved labs showing the models have efficiencies of 64%, 66% and 69% (which is also how they are listed on the EPA database).  The average pellet stove is about 73% efficient. Their test reports are provided on the US Stove website.  

John Voorhees, Vice President for Compliance at US Stove, signed the tax credit certificate that states

The Ashley certificate juxtaposed with
the EPA database 
Under penalties of perjury, I declare that I have examined this certification statement, and to the best of my knowledge and belief, the facts are true, correct, and complete.”  AGH reached out to Mr. Voorhees for clarification and to ensure the US Stove position was included in this blog, and though we exchanged many emails and US Stove provided relevant information, the company declined to permit AGH to quote from that exchange.  AGH will update this blog if US Stove chooses to provide any information that we can make public.
 

It is unclear why US Stove singled out the four models on this certificate when other models are listed with higher efficiencies, though none are above 75% except for one pellet stove made by their Breckwell brand.  When the tax credit was first passed by Congress in 2009, most companies declared that all of their models qualified.  That year, US Stove issued a certificate saying that 24 models were eligible for the credit requiring a minimum of 75% efficiency.  

In 2009, like many manufacturers, US
Stove listed all or almost all of of their
 models as meeting the requirements of
the 75% minimum efficiency tax credit.

Today, most boiler and furnace companies also seem to be following Congress’s plain language and only certifying units at 75% or more.  Boiler efficiencies are more complex because there are several test methods and the resulting efficiencies aren’t as comparable as they are with wood and pellet stoves. AGH found one indoor wood furnace manufacturer, Hy-C who makes the Shelter furnace, tested at 70% efficiency by the lab but the company issues a Certificate of Qualification that it meets the 75% HHV threshold. 

 

Tax credits for consumer appliances have a variety of purposes, in addition to incentivizing consumers to buy higher efficiency appliances.  They are designed to influence manufacturers to improve product efficiency, accelerate market penetration of more efficient products and potentially prepare the market for future mandatory requirements.  Currently, there is no required minimum efficiency for wood and pellet heaters.  For pellet stoves like the ones in question, they range from 58% efficient for a model produced by US Stove, to an 87% efficiency unit from Cleveland Iron works.

 

Wood and pellet stoves and boilers are an excellent way to reduce fossil fuels and affordably heat your home, especially in seasons like this one when fossil fuel prices are high.  Federal tax credits are an efficient way to help households reduce fossil fuel use with a renewable, low carbon fuel.  However, unless consumers use seasoned wood of under 20% moisture content, wood stoves can produce excessive smoke and will not reflect the efficiency achieved in the test lab.  AGH considers pellet stoves to be the optimum choice, as their combination of high efficiencies and very low particulate matter make them suitable for both rural and more densely inhabited towns and suburban areas.  Unlike wood stoves, the efficiency numbers achieved in the lab can generally be achieved by consumers if the unit is maintained properly. 

 

Even though most manufacturers are now issuing tax credit certificates for stoves that are at least 75% efficient, AGH urges consumers to also check the EPA’s database of wood heaters to be sure.  AGH has been in touch with IRS officials, urging them to issue guidance that wood heaters must be listed at 75% efficient or higher on the EPA database to close any remaining loopholes that a few manufacturers still try to use.  


Further reading

AGH urges the IRS to recognize efficiencies in the EPA database, Feb. 2021

Guidance on the 26% tax credit for wood heaters, Jan. 2021

A review of wood and pellet stove efficiency ratings, Jan. 2014, updated May 2020

How to claim the tax credit, Feb. 2018, updated Jan. 2021


Friday, October 29, 2021

How to inspect a wood stove: A visual guide for safety & performance

Download visual guide here
The Alliance for Green Heat developed a visual guide for inspecting wood stoves for the energy audit and weatherization community as those communities have lacked appropriate training in how to inspect stoves.  Safety inspections of wood stoves are supposed to be required for all stoves, whether they are primary or just occasional heaters for DOE funded programs, such as for low-income homes covered by WAP – the Weatherization Assistance Program.

This easy-to-use guide provides photos of the most common safety issues found in wood stoves that should be checked by energy auditors - as well as other energy and hearth professionals.  It can also be useful for homeowners.  Coming soon is a checklist that will indicate the status of each item and whether it needs repair.  The guide is broken down into what needs to be checked on the exterior of the stove, the interior of the stove, the exterior of the house - and many special circumstances.  Some items are in grey areas of what an energy auditor is responsible for checking - such as the storage and moisture of the firewood - and we encourage states and counties with high rates of wood stove installations to engage in a more expansive audit.

The problem is that there is little evidence to indicate that stoves are being inspected in a meaningful and consistent way within many WAP programs.  Most states use forms that provide many options to add detail about the inspection of a furnace, but little or none for wood stoves.  Some states list wood stoves as a heating appliance and a few states, like Idaho, ask if the stove is “operable, failing or inoperable.”  Furnaces on the other hand are turned on and have their flue gases tested, producing a written record on CO, PM, temperature efficiency and draft.  This provides useful, objective indicators of the health of the furnace or boiler.  There is no corollary data input options for wood stoves that would provide a written record showing the stove had received a meaningful or even minimal inspection.

 

In recent weeks, AGH did PowerPoint presentations to two important stakeholder groups: the DOE WAP Training Consortium and the National Residential Wood Smoke Workgroup.  Both of

Download PowerPoint here.

these presentations were very productive and led to substantive follow-up work with many of the attendees.  Kelly Cutchin who heads up the WAP Training Consortium has been particularly helpful as AGH navigates the bureaucracy that surrounds WAP standards, update, trainings, etc.  

 

But while this project has gained a lot of traction and improvements are happening, we are still far away from our goal: changing the standards that the DOE uses to approve state work specification documents that have minimal attention to wood stoves.  Most states are not living up to DOE requirements that all heating systems be inspected and repaired, as needed, or possibly replaced. One problem is that DOE regulations provide far more specificity about fossil fuel furnaces and boilers. For example, “WPN 19-4 Revised Energy Audit Attachments”, a key guidance document for the Weatherization Program, mentions boilers 19 times, furnaces 21 times, and wood stoves only 1 time. The result permeates the inspections and attention that each heater receives throughout the value chain. Thus, in the sections about repairing heating equipment, there is no guidance about how to repair a stove, while there is a long list of things relevant to boilers and furnaces. This continues year after year, despite the fact that there are more wood stoves than residential boilers in the United States (around 9 million homes are heated with oil, gas and propane boilers, while 10.1 million wood stoves provide primary or secondary heat nationwide). 

 

There are plausible explanations for why WAP materials often have far more detail about inspecting and repairing furnaces compared to wood stoves.  First, wood stoves are more often than not, a secondary heater, where furnaces are almost always primary heaters. Second, wood stoves are very infrequent in urban areas and in southern states.  And third, there could be an implicit bias against wood stoves by agency officials who view them as a relic of the past and underestimate their numbers, safety issues and their importance for the rural poor. 

 

The integration of wood heaters more fully in the WAP program ultimately should include changes to state “Standard Work Specifications” (SWS) documents, which are updated every 5 years to assure they reflect industry-accepted practices. Significant updates in the area of combustion safety occurred in the last 5 years but it is unclear if wood stoves were included in any significant way.

 

Sometimes, WAP documents say little more than a stove should be replaced if it shows “structural failure.” Some states seem to interpret that as having a crack in the heat exchanger, which in the case of a wood stove means a crack in the body of the stove. Maine is more restrictive and says replacement is "allowed only when there is a crack in the heat exchanger than may cause a carbon monoxide problem or a fire danger."  Montana is unique and at the opposite extreme where non-EPA certified stoves are considered de facto "unsafe for program purposes." 

 

Changes in these DOE funded programs will also influence the way that states, utilities and private companies conduct energy audits.  When AGH polled its supporters who have had energy audits recently, a majority said their wood or pellet stove was completely ignored.  Considering so many wood stoves are self-installed, this oversight is ripe for change.

 

Many thanks to everyone who has been working with AGH on his project, and special thanks to the CSIA, EPA and the WAP Trainers Consortium.


For further reading:

Wood stove inclusive energy audit standards still missing in America, Aug. 2021

BPI Energy Auditing Standards Open for Public Comment, Oct. 2013

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Inspector General investigating EPA’s oversight of its residential wood heater program

On October 22, 2021, the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General announced it was launching an investigation into the EPA’s residential wood heater testing and certification program. The memo announcing the investigation was directed at both the Office of Enforcement and Compliance (OECA) based in DC and the Office of Air and Radiation (OAR) whose staff is mainly based in Triangle Park, North Carolina. The report is scheduled to be published sometime next year.

The Office of the Inspector General is “an independent office within the EPA that helps the agency protect the environment in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.” It identifies areas it believes need investigation and issues a public report with recommendations. While it does not have enforcement power, the EPA is expected to take the Office's recommendations seriously. There can be disagreements over priorities and that is already happening in the water program and elsewhere. The OIG also submits semiannual reports to Congress. In the event that the EPA ignores any of the recommendations made by OIG, it is possible that the agency can be pressured to address them through hearings, appropriations riders or funding. The EPA OIG can also uncover criminal behavior, which would be addressed accordingly by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

 

More specifically, the memo announcing this evaluation says, “Our objective is to determine whether EPA effectively uses its oversight and enforcement authority to ensure that all residential wood heaters reaching consumers are properly tested and certified in accordance with established standards. … We may also choose to include a sample of regions in our evaluation and to conduct work at laboratories and third-party certifiers in selected regions.”

A current ad for uncertified
outdoor wood boilers

Before publicly announcing this evaluation, the OIG contacted the Alliance for Green Heat on Oct. 13, 2021 and held a conference call with AGH on Oct. 21. For years, AGH has been raising alarm bells about the lack of EPA enforcement in a number of areas, including the numerous companies that continue to manufacturer and sell outdoor wood boilers. AGH has often contacted the EPA Office of Enforcement and published stories on our newsletter on companies who make and/or distribute uncertified residential central wood heaters, including ACME (Missouri), EZBoiler (Michigan), Hyprotherm (Arkansas) and MBTEK (Pennsylvania distributor of Polish appliances). AGH has spoken with most of the companies by phone and they say that they have never been contacted by the EPA or a state agency about certification issues.

AGH also raised EPA’s failure to contact the whistleblower regarding the credible allegations of fraud at US Stove Company, along with a number of other areas where enforcement action was needed.

The OIG’s evaluation is also believed to have been triggered by the NESCAUM report, Assessment of EPA’s Residential Wood Heater Certification Program, that found a “systemic failure of the entire certification process, including EPA’s oversight and enforcement of its requirements.” That report led the EPA to conduct its own review of the certification paperwork for all certified stoves. The EPA is contacting scores of companies to obtain missing information or for clarification. In some cases, it is requiring the company to have the stove tested again.

If you have evidence of misconduct or mismanagement regarding the EPA’s oversight of wood heater testing or certification, you can provide information using this form, and refer to case OSRE-FY22-0026.

Further reading:

Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Alaska wood stove regulations – cleaning the air or a proxy war?

On Sept. 26, the EPA issued a resounding victory to Alaska’s strategy for improving the air in the Fairbanks area, rebuking virtually all of industry’s objections.  That victory came from the approval of Alaska’s State Implement Plan (SIP) to reduce wood smoke PM2.5 in the Fairbanks non-attainment area.

In essence, Alaska proposed different and stricter standards for wood stoves to be sold and installed in Fairbanks.  They will not allow cordwood boilers, coal heaters, stoves that emit more than 2 grams, or stoves that emit more than 4 or 6 grams during any hour of testing, and multiple other restrictions.  All of this helps. HPBA and more than a dozen wood stove manufacturers mounted a major effort to beat back the Alaska regulations, making the case that much of Alaska’s approach was arbitrary and capricious, not based on evidence, contradicted federal standards, etc. etc.  EPA’s ruling took the side of Alaska on every issue, often by simply stating that states have the authority to be more stringent than federal standard, rather than addressing the details of industry’s points.

 

Why this is a big deal


What everyone needs to understand is that the little city of Fairbanks Alaska has become a proxy war in a much larger struggle over the future of wood stove testing.  Much of Alaska’s work to review stove certifications did not address air quality in Fairbanks, but it does have major national ramifications.  Alaska developed its own list of stoves that could be installed in Fairbanks that was not based solely on emissions criteria.  Instead, it was mainly based on whether the certification paperwork was complete, and they could verify that the test labs correctly followed EPA stove testing regulations, despite the existence of some grey areas.  This set-in motion an unheralded level of scrutiny on testing done by all EPA approved labs, and sent the EPA into an embarrassing tail-spin, as they showed that the EPA had abdicated its role in effectively overseeing its certification program.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough 
(FNSB) non-attainment map.

Alaska’s scrutiny of certification paperwork was sometimes clumsy, and they found hundreds of details were missing, requiring manufacturers to show them that they often were there, but just difficult to find.  EPA has never provided a consistent format for labs to report data and it has been difficult to get the EPA to confirm which details needed to be included in the certification reports. But usually the details Alaska could not find were in fact missing and they uncovered serious patterns and deficiencies in many certification reports, something that few in industry are willing to admit. Those deficiencies had been in plain sight for years, but nobody looked carefully enough. The EPA, scrambling to show they take wood stoves seriously, began a slow but steady process to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.  They commenced their own review of certification paperwork and over a year later, they are now sending letters to manufacturers requiring them to provide missing data.  Moreover, they are taking the unique step of requiring some stoves to be retested, similar to the audit testing that HPBA fought against.

 

The significance of the EPA’s ruling on Alaska’s SIP is difficult to summarize, as it has many highly technical themes, each one difficult to assess on its own merits.  Suffice it say that the stove community is in the midst of a historic period of change that had already started with the 2016 EPA decision to design new stove testing protocols, using the Integrated Duty Cycle (IDC) model developed by NESCAUM. Alaska has now tipped the balance of power toward a wider review of EPA’s certification program – and its enforcement and compliance unit.  One manufacturer went so far to say that Alaska had improperly pre-empted the EPA by creating a “de facto federal standard.”  There is the possibility that other states may follow Alaska’s approach, either through regulations or voluntary programs like change outs.  

 

AGH believes the Alaska initiative has had several positive impacts.  First, it’s made labs test stoves more carefully, and properly dot their i’s and cross their t’s.  Secondly, it forced the EPA to take their wood heater certification program more seriously, run it more professionally and better understand the grey areas that they had unknowingly included in the 2015 stove regulations.  

 

The long term view


But the most important outcome is something that all parties can agree on: understanding how to improve test methods so that they encourage engineers to design stoves that will perform better in the hands of consumers.  This is what we all are working for.  Alaska has now brought attention, if not clarity, to scores of issues that make for an effective certification program.  A good certification program needs clear guidance to manufacturers and labs and it needs a compliance program.

AGH is hopeful that this process will lead to genuinely cleaner stoves that get put through their paces in a test lab just as homeowners will use that stove. It’s useful to consider other EPA certification testing programs and the decades it has taken to understand their weaknesses and reform them, so consumers are getting products that work well in the real world.  

EPA auto emission standards
got stricter - and more realistic.
Automobile testing, for example, went through similar stages.  A revolution in auto testing, in the words of one expert, happened when manufactures were “motivated to produce emission controls that not only pass emission certification testing, but also remain functional when vehicles are in real-world use.”  Admittedly, the auto industry is massive and can afford levels of R&D and compliance that are impossible for the tiny, but resilient wood stove industry. Herein lies the rub: how far can the EPA and manufacturers be pushed to make lasting changes? Both are resource constrained.  Will the EPA stay focused on this program?  If they don’t, will other states undertake their own initiatives?  Will some manufacturers just quit making wood stoves and focus on their carbon intensive but profitable gas appliances? And does their industry association have the leadership and vision to steer industry through this, or will they focus more on legal and regulatory battles that may be difficult to win.  Many of the large stove manufacturers, including the biggest three, have already let their memberships lapse, for a variety of reasons.

AGH believes we need a hearth industry that can produce appliances clean enough to help households get off fossil heating fuels.  We are not there yet, except with pellet stoves and boilers which work well in the hands of consumers and can easily be improved even more.  Most New England states have incentives for pellet heating and western US states should adopt those policies as well. The electrification movement and more extreme and frequent weather events may solidify the demand for wood stoves.  Pellet heating deserves far more incentives.

A set-back for federal change-out funding

The Alaska initiative has also been very problematic and in some ways damaging.  A NESCAUM report made the implausible claim that the EPA cannot assure that new certified stoves are in fact cleaner than old, uncertified ones.  Actual lab and field testing has repeatedly found the opposite to be true.  This report helped scuttle federal legislation sought by HPBA that would have provided tens of millions for change-out programs.  The irony is that much of that funding would have helped lower-income families switch to fuels that produce less PM (but maybe more carbon), like gas, pellets, or electricity (heat pumps).  This occurred during the year that Congress increased the tax credit for high efficiency stoves, which benefits higher income taxpayers.  Change-outs also require professional installation which often reduces future PM, whereas a very large percent of stoves bought with the tax credit are self-installed.

Like America, the stove community has become even more divided, making the process of developing new test protocols more contentious.  It is unclear what individual or entity has the leadership to bring the sides together to hash out the scores of issues in a truly productive way that could reduce the bitter and litigious atmosphere. The Alaska initiative did not help but it could set the stage for more collaboration, if someone can facilitate it.  Up until a few years, 90% of the expertise in stove testing was within industry and the test labs they work closely with to certify their stoves.  This process has changed that dynamic, forcing more people at EPA and state agencies understand the regulations and the science behind stove testing.  

This NYT image shows extremely
slow growth of renewables in our
electric supply, an impediment
to the electrification movement.

There is also little consensus about the future of wood and pellet heating in America.  This process is being driven by air quality agencies who usually don’t take carbon into consideration.  Thus, even if a pellet stove fueled mainly by residuals from sawmills has higher PM than a gas stove, these officials may lean more heavily on the gas scales.  In the US, there is scant leadership that there is in most of Europe promoting certain types of high efficiency wood and pellet heating as part of the renewable energy solution, at least until our grids have a majority of renewable electricity on them.  The EPA – and Alaska – often claim to work under a technology neutral rubric, although neither is technology neutral, nor should they be.  They both need to more aggressively promote cleaner, lower carbon appliances.  The EPA and Alaska even struggle to officially tip the scales more towards pellet appliances, even though their air quality mandate should make that an obvious policy direction. Luckily, while EPA works on how to test stoves, the DOE is funding a complementary process – building innovative, next-generation wood stoves.

Industry has vital expertise that must go into the process of developing new stove testing protocols.  Many individual manufacturers also will be gathering vital test data from internal testing that they could share with the EPA.  NESCAUM is also developing data which they should share at some point. We need thoughtful leadership on both sides to make sure we get genuinely effective test methods that incentivize manufacturers to do the kind of R&D that will lead to stoves that work well in homes.  Industry sometimes seems to think the rule making process should still be a "reg neg" - a negotiated rulemaking that emerged in the 1980s and was used in the first wood heater NSPS.  Reg negs were supposed to reduce the overly adversarial process of traditional rulemaking.  This is not a reg neg but still, effective cooperation and communication can be extremely beneficial.

The lengthy process that led to the 2015 NSPS regulations did not lead to a new generation of cleaner stoves, like the 1988 regulations did.  But we are now asking the right questions and we better understand the nature of beast that we are trying to control.  Who will step forward and reset the relationship between industry and air quality agencies?

Monday, September 20, 2021

A DOE program that invest in next generation wood stoves


Prof. Nordica MacCarty, right, from 
Oregon State University, just won
a third round DOE grant.

The DOE just completed its third round of funding for novel and innovative wood heater designs, selecting teams from Oregon State University and the University of Alabama.  To date, the program has now invested about $11 million in the wood and pellet heating sector.  The program seeks to modernize the most common renewable energy technology in American homes – the traditional wood stove – which is in 10% of all households.

Wood stoves are often not included in the vision for clean renewable energy but they have done more than any other technology to reduce fossil fuel use in American homes in recent decades thus far.  The far more modern cousin of the wood stove, the pellet stove, is already automated in many ways and consistently cleaner and more efficient than the wood stove.  The DOE program is investing in novel wood stove technologies to address excessive wood smoke in many communities, particularly in western states where stoves are popular and weather inversions trap smoke near the ground.

Professor Nordica MacCarty, who just won a $2.5 million grant, says her team will make stove “prototypes operationalized with closed-loop sensors and control algorithms. Plans are in place for market transformation with regulatory oversight and open-source knowledge sharing among partner manufacturers and the industry at large.”  The DOE requires that teams work with existing stove manufacturers or develop other plans to get their inventions on the market. 

Taylor Myers, Chief Technical Officer
at MF Fire, doing very early testing on
movement characteristics of fire.


A review of the seven projects funded so far show that the DOE is focusing on automated controls and sensing technologies that mimic the controls in other combustion technologies, from the automobile to power plants. There is little published data to date about the results of the DOE investment and stoves supported by the DOE are just getting to the market.

MF Fire, a Baltimore based start-up company, got 2 awards the first year.  One is a “smart monitoring and real-time guidance” device that can be added to any stove.  The other is a stove with “swirling combustion technology” designed to reduce PM and be a novel, visual focal point in the room, according to Ryan Fisher, the company’s COO.

 



SBI’s grant from DOE is being used to build an automated stove which has been delayed due to Covid. Louis-Pierre Côté, SBI’s Director of Product Development, told AGH that the stove is designed to “burn efficiently even though the user makes operating mistakes, and it should be easier to light the stove and should then reduce the number of misfires.”

The SBI team that designed an early 
prototype of an automated stove that
won awards at the 4th Wood Stove 
Design Challenge in 2018.

The DOE program, part of larger grant cycle run by the Bioenergy Technology Office within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) complements the efforts of the EPA to regulate the emissions of residential wood stoves.  The EPA has never invested in the R&D of cleaner stoves but its first set of regulations in 1988 resulted in a rapid and universal technology upgrade for all stoves.  Since then, many experts say technology has stalled. While stoves can perform well in the lab, they are all still manually operated so that in the hands of consumers, they can still perform poorly.


“There is a mismatch between the EPA’s regulations and the DOE programs because the EPA is still embroiled in the ongoing clash between industry and air quality agencies over how to test manually operated stoves,” said John Ackerly, President of the Alliance for Green Heat. The DOE is investing in the future - stoves with automated controls - but these stoves may be at a disadvantage using the EPA’s test protocols designed for manually controlled stoves.  Manufacturers have had little incentive to build automated stoves and must design their own alternative test protocols which need to be approved by the EPA.  


Each of the six projects are ambitious and highly innovative and they should start to hit the market in the next few years.  Until they pass EPA certification and are in the marketplace, its hard to prove that they are able to match their vision with a clean stove that consumers will want to buy.  Assuming the DOE maintains the program, over time it is likely to have a major impact on a technology sector that is not known for high-tech innovation.


MF Fire, Swirl Stove

SBI/ISB, Automated stove

Ohio State, Simulation drive automated stove

NTRE Tech, Fluid bed combuster

Oregon State, Forced air and automated controls

University of Alabama, Autonomous Stove 

 

The DOE is expected to announce its next round of wood heater grants early next year.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Residential wood heating in Russia:

History, current state and potential

by Caroline Solomon and John Ackerly

The Alliance for Green Heat

A full copy of the report can be downloaded here.

Executive Summary 

For many, Russia largely remains a blank area on the wood heating map, one that is hard to understand or fathom. In reality, though, Russia has a rich history of masonry heaters. Russian forests make it the largest forested area in the world, and many parts of Russia experience long, hard winters which have incentivized the creation of efficient and warm wood stoves. Russia also stands out because of its lack of emissions regulations for residential wood heaters and its large wood heating population.


The Alliance for Green Heat believes that the diffusion of more advanced wood heat technology is vital to the future of wood heating as the world transitions to renewable energy. One method by which to work towards this goal is understanding wood stove technology across cultures, countries, and histories.


This report is intended to help readers understand the state of wood heat in Russia and to explore how collaborations between Western and Russian institutions can advance stove technology. Some questions explored in this report include: What is the state of stove technology in Russia? Where is there potential for a transition to cleaner, more efficient, and still affordable stoves? And what practices and technologies used in Russia could be applied to wood stove users of Western and other countries? Of course, these questions cannot be answered in their entirety, and all the details of the Russian wood stove situation cannot be represented in a single report. However, this report attempts to give a general review of this topic. Future research could provide more insight into wood heating in both Russia and other countries of the world.


This report also does not make recommendations, as it is only a preliminary review of literature. We do not purport to have the expertise to fully understand all the complexities of residential wood heating in Russia. Exploring the best way to work towards some sort of emissions certification standards in Russia seems crucial, but our sources say this is still a secondary goal to avoiding massive heat insecurity among low-income households.

 

The Alliance for Green Heat chose to do a short report on Russian residential wood heating for these reasons and because our summer fellow, Caroline Solomon, is almost fluent in Russian and could conduct interviews in Russian and read Russian materials. However, the project turned out to be much more difficult than we expected. We found a stunning lack of information about residential wood heating, leading to some initial overall conclusions:


  1. Wood heat was replaced in Russian cities, large and small, by the Soviet system of centralized heating through massive coal district heat systems. This went hand-in-hand with the urbanization drive to develop Russia into a more modern, industrialized country. Wood remained the dominant heating fuel across the most rural areas of Russia as well as in Russian dachas (country homes) outside of cities and in private and public baths.


  1. Masonry heaters in Russia are still common in older rural homes and tend to be preferred over freestanding metal stoves, but we received conflicting reports about how many new ones are still being built.


  1. The Russian steel and cast iron stove manufacturing sector creates a wide range of heaters in terms of price, quality and size for the domestic market and for export to former Soviet Republics and eastern Europe. Burzhuika is the common way of referring to the generic metal stove model widely used in Russia and Central Asia for both heating and cooking.


  1. There are no national or regional emissions regulations for wood stoves as far as we could find, though a few Russian-made stoves do appear to meet certain EU emissions requirements.


  1. We found very little information about the amount of wood smoke in residential areas and if wood smoke is a social or political issue anywhere in Russia. Most sources discount the issue, given that most wood stove users tend to reside in remote/rural areas, but say smoke from coal heating is an issue in some towns.


  1. Low rates of residential and district heating with wood mean that the potential for growth in both sectors is substantial. 


This report provides a general overview of wood heating in Russia in its various applications (wood stoves, masonry heaters, district heating systems, etc.), but we have only been able to skim the surface of the issue, given the amount of time and resources we were able to put into it. To our knowledge, a similar report or overview does not yet exist, perhaps due to the difficulty of finding reliable information related to this topic, particularly information in English. AGH’s summer fellow Caroline Solomon put in many hours of Russian language research and interviewed several Russians in the U.S. and in Russia to research this report. 

Wood Heat in Russian History

Burning wood for heat has long been a part of cultures around the world, and Russia is no exception. Particularly due to its vast northern region, where an average winter’s day can have temperatures as low as -13° F, wood heat has long played a role in Russian history and Russian culture. 


Early stoves in Russian homes were made of rocks, clay, or wood, and featured prominently in a home. Old “black” Russian stoves were so called because they didn’t include chimneys. This meant that the home would frequently fill with smoke, blackening the ceilings and walls. Though obviously reducing air quality, this ensured a toasty interior.


The advances in heating technology in Russia, the rest of Asia, and later in the Roman Empire appear to have been lost in Britain and much of Europe during the ‘Dark Ages’ (10th-11th century) of religious persecution and witch hunts. That same era repressed scientific progress so that even the Roman underfloor heating technology was lost, according to one theory, but advances in masonry heating may have continued in Russia, China, Korea and elsewhere.


One Russian source reports that in the 1400s, smaller Russian masonry stoves without chimneys were used by peasants in Siberian and northern regions, though it wasn’t until the 1600s that Russian stoves began to incorporate chimneys once bricks became more widespread. One of the best English language articles on the history of heating in various parts of Russia can be found here, rambling from bathing to cooking to heating. 


The Russian stove has also become a part of Russian culture in a way, making appearances in many Russian fairy tales, which feature stoves that can talk or magically transport people. Multiple stories include the evil witch Baba Yaga attempting to cook childre
n in her stove.


Wood Stoves Used in Russia Today

Three kinds of stoves will be investigated in this section: masonry heaters, freestanding metal stoves, and sauna stoves. By far the most information could be found about masonry heaters, which seem to be the most common form of wood stove in Russia, though it appears that metal stoves and wood-burning sauna stoves are still used in many parts of Russia.

Masonry Heaters

The Russian masonry heater in its current form did not appear until around the 15th century, when many sources say that western Europe was still using open fires in fireplaces, over a thousand years after the Romans used hypocausts for underfloor heating. It is used both for cooking and domestic heating in traditional Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian households. Like all masonry wood heaters, the Russian version is designed to retain heat for long periods of time. This is achieved by channeling the smoke and hot air produced by combustion through a complex labyrinth of passages, warming the bricks from which the stove is constructed.

The builders of Russian stoves are referred to as "stovemakers" (pechniki). Good stovemakers always had a high status among the population, because a poorly built Russian stove was always very difficult to repair, and would bake unevenly, smoke, or retain heat poorly. There are many designs for the Russian stove depending on the economic status of the household, with distinct versions emerging for high end urban homes and buildings. A variety of “Russian” stove designs can be seen on Pinterest and various other Internet sources.

Once cheap bricks became available in Russia in the 19th century, the traditional “white'' Russian stove became more prevalent. This design included a brick chimney for smoke to escape through the roof. 


These masonry stoves tend to be large heaters that occupy an entire wall or corner of a room. For Russian peasants, they often doubled as both stoves for heat and cooking, and many times even provided places to sleep, bathe, or wash clothes.


Similar bed-stoves have existed in many other cultures, including northern China and several European countries. The kang, or ondol, a heated bed, that is associated with what is today China and Korea, has a chimney and is a type of masonry heater, and clearly existed as of 2,000 BC, but one source says 5,000 BC. In the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, excavations found a castle complex, featuring a well-preserved hypocaust (a furnace-heated floor) built between 200–400 BC. 

Russian innovators also contributed to the innovation of the masonry stove during the 20th century. During the 1920s, the famous stove designer Grumm-Grzhimailo worked at The Stal’ Proekt Institute (Steel Project Institute) in Moscow and was assigned to design metal furnaces, but spent most of his free time trying to improve the more popular masonry heater. Working with Leosiv Samoelovich Podgoridnikov, another Russian stovebuilder, they made many improvements, removing many disadvantages of the masonry heater, but the essential form of their efforts remained the single bell heater. In 1927, the Soviet Union hosted a nationwide competition for a more advanced Russian stove. Prizes were won by V.E. Grumm-Grzhimailo, N.S. Podgorodnikov and the All-Union Thermal Engineering Institute.

Podgoridnikov stayed with the Stal’ Proekt after Grumm-Grzhimailo’s death and continued his work on the popular heater. At his dacha he built many experimental heaters, some in the house and barn, and many outside in the open. The result of his exhaustive investigation was his belief that the efficient heater must be double and not single bell. This has since been considered a revolutionary point in heater design. 

During 1955, in Semipalatinsk, the traditional heaters in all public buildings like schools, hospitals, etc. were replaced by double bell heaters. The result was an immense saving of fuel throughout the municipality. This had been attempted many times by others but to little avail, and it was only the application of Grumm-Grzhimailo’s theory of free gas movement that solved the problem. One of the inventor's main aims was the improvement of the traditional Russian oven that could be found in almost every home.

Despite this astounding innovation in masonry heaters, they started to fade into the background and be replaced with other heating systems during the Soviet era. Marcus Flynn, a Canadian masonry heater builder, recalls that he met “a stovebuilder in Minsk 25 years ago, who had been born in Kazakhstan. He learned to build stoves from his father who was originally also from Minsk. He told [Marcus] that in the reconstruction period after the war, some stovebuilders were forced to move from Western Russia where they were numerous, out into the Southern and Eastern extremities of the Empire in order to introduce stovebuilding into areas where there was never any tradition of heating with masonry stoves. The idea of this was apparently so that wood could be used for heating and cooking in these areas, keeping natural gas and oil for the industrial and military reconstruction.” 


Marcus also reported that “after the forced collectivisation of agriculture, stovebuilders were one of a few trades which were allowed to be practiced by individuals. Stove Builders would belong to an agricultural or industrial collective but not go to work there. They would instead build stoves independently in the areas they lived. Stalin could kill millions of uncooperative farmers, but he knew that stovebuilders were so few, and so unruly, that it would be an error to force collectivisation on them.”

Massive masonry heaters began to disappear around the Soviet revolution, when district heating systems began to be built. Like in Western Europe, masonry and tile stoves were removed and destroyed en masse when fossil fuels became cheap and their potential to warm the globe was not known. 

For those who still wanted to use space heaters in homes, smaller stoves became more popular. Alexandra Guzeva writes: “From the mid-19th century, massive Russian stoves began to give way to compact Dutch brick stoves. The latter not only took up less space, but had a much simpler design. One could not lie on them, but they had a small platform on top for preparing food, like a cooker. These days, the traditional Russian stove has become a rarity and can only be found in museums. Whereas, its smaller and simpler Dutch variety is still in use in villages today.” 

While it is true that the masonry stove has faded into the background a bit, a smaller, higher-end demographic in Russia is now importing more expensive wood stoves or masonry heaters in Russia. Examples include the Finnish company Tulikivi or Kuznetsov Stove, which focuses on more expensive masonry heaters with the goal of burning as efficiently as possible.

However, others report that the huge, traditional Russian stoves are still common in rural Russia. Alex Chernov, one of the best known North American masonry heater builders, who was also born and raised in Russia, reported that “the vast majority of all homes outside of the large cities and towns actually are predominantly heated with masonry heaters, not metal stoves. Masonry heaters are often built cheaply using local, often recycled materials by local craftsmen and provide a much better environment in homes while not requiring transportation of manufactured stoves and distribution system for their sale… I would say that over 90% of the rural population is heating with stoves and masonry heaters and about 70% use wood, due to abundance over the majority of the country. 

“Some areas where wood is not abundant use other types of fuels. For instance, my family in Ukraine used mostly coal, using wood only to start the fire. A Russian stove building textbook I have lists 6 types of fireboxes for masonry heaters for the following types of fuels: wood, coal, peat, dung, seeds and seed shells (like sunflower seed shells) and grass.”  Thus, he estimates there are millions of masonry heaters. “I doubt the trend for preference of the masonry heaters over metal stoves will be changing soon,” he says. 

In neighboring Belarus, a former Soviet republic, the tradition of masonry heaters has some distinct regional characteristics, but still shares many with Russia. In Belarus, the stoves are known as petchka, and as of 1995 “almost every rural home has a petchka, but only about 40% still have and use them.” The medium size version of the petchka is called a Grubka, which are also single-skin Russian-style masonry heaters. In rural areas they were usually built in brick with a whitewashed stucco finish. In cities, many were built with real stove stove tiles, as opposed to modern petchka which are finished in regular bathroom tiles.

According to Alex Chernov, “Russia has many old proven designs repeatedly built by stove builders but they also have scores of individual developers, who expanded the variety dramatically by their free thinking. There also were whole scientific bodies run by the government in the Soviet times,which developed and tested designs to be recommended for construction throughout the country. Designs were published and distributed. There were government run technical schools preparing professional stove builders. I still have one of the books printed for such schools. It was an industry and it still is.” During the Cold War, the Iron Curtain froze the exchange of ideas and technology, and even masonry heat experts still do not know how many innovative masonry heat designs may exist in Russia.

Though perhaps real numbers may never be known, a striking testament to the durability of Russian stoves can be found in the abandoned masonry heaters that are scattered around what looks like an open field in the Volosovsky region near St. Petersburg. The brick stoves are all that are left of the houses of the village of Bolshoe Zarechye, or “Big District” -- a town that was burned to the ground by the Nazis in 1943 during World War II.

The stove, which remembers the hand of the housewife. The stove, from which bread was taken. The stove, where they heated themselves. The stove, on which they slept… The stove, standing without a house in the wind and the rain, is absurd, just as war is absurd. The word stove itself is associated with war, moreso with Dachau or Auschwitz. But there was no less horror here.”


-- about the “lonely stoves” of the Volosovsky region 

Another moving set of old masonry stoves in deserted homes can be found here, in the Kaluga region, which was ravaged during WWII. 


Despite the larger trend of masonry heaters fading into the background of Russia, they are making a small resurgence in some areas. According to one Russian expert who we contacted, “there was a period when stove heating was considered a relic of the past, and work and research on wood-burning heating by the state was stopped. Now wood-fired heating is used both in small towns and in rural settlements, where it is very efficient. Wood-fired heating is widely used in dachas, in rural areas, in fishing and hunting lodges, and in private and public baths.” Masonry heaters, a staple of Russian peasant homes, are definitely not dead yet, but rather are living on in a slightly different way. 

Metal Stoves

"Burzhuika" is a generic name commonly used in Russia to describe a metal stove. This word actually means  "belonging to a wealthy capitalist," likely having the initial connotation that only those with excessive financial means could afford it, which demonstrates how extravagant metal stoves were in the early years of their use in Russia. The burzhuika is a comparatively compact stove which was produced in a large scale industrial production during Soviet time, starting from 1930 and up to 1960s. The burzhuika also existed in similar forms for several centuries in many other countries, from Mongolia to Pakistan to Poland. 


There are scores of references to the burzhuika during World War II, when Russians relied on it for survival, burning books and furniture to stay warm when central heating systems failed. The Burzhuika wood stove also has spawned a variety of homemade variations and, like most inventions, is continuously evolving. After the war, the burzhuika was used in dachas (country homes) for cooking and heat, and today can be bought throughout Russia and online. It is also very common in former Soviet countries, like Ukraine and the Kyrgyz Republic, as well as in Eastern European countries like Slovakia.


Russian manufacturers of metal stoves are now very active, both in Russia and abroad. Wood stove manufacturing still appears to produce mainly basic stove designs, meeting the demand for low-cost wood heaters.  Many wealthier Russians buy stoves made in Western Europe. This page, showing Russian-made stoves for export, provides a good overview of the Russian market. The dominant company making higher-priced stoves appears to be Termofor, founded in 2003 in the city Novosibirsk, and Teplodar. According to Teplodar’s site, the “ratio of price and quality of products of the Teplodar plant makes it popular on the Russian market, as well as in Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. At your service in the territory of Russia, Serbia and Ukraine there are more than 50 authorized service centers for high-quality installation and maintenance of our equipment.” 


Like with the U.S. or any country, it is hard to know what percent of stoves made in Russian are sold in Russia. Clearly, there is a large export market, predominantly to Eastern European countries and former Soviet republics. And as far as we know, there is still no Russian-made stove that is certified to any North American or Western European emission standards, which is a major barrier to entering those markets. 

Like most wood heater manufacturers in the U.S., almost all Russian manufacturers carry a variety of different types of stoves, and virtually all of them make sauna stoves. Some cater to lower-end markets, and some also make boilers and furnaces. Many stove manufacturers are based in Novosibirsk in southwestern Siberia, which is Russia’s third largest city after Moscow and St. Petersburg. These are most of the top brands, with their base location in parentheses (if that information could be found):


For more pictures of stoves from around the world, the Alliance for Green Heat assembled a photo essay of typical stoves from around the world that features many from former Soviet Republics and Eastern Europe, showing the prevalence and variety of older metal stoves.


Sauna Stoves

The Russian tradition of saunas, or “banyas,” is ancient and is most closely related to the Swedish sauna tradition. We found far more information about wood-burning saunas than we could find about residential wood heating, in large part because of its interest to tourists and connection to sauna culture in Western countries. Traditionally, all Russian saunas were heated with wood, and most of them outside the big cities continue to be. According to one testimony: “We are drowning with natural firewood - unlike many other inexpensive modern baths in the suburbs, where artificial heaters are installed. Urban baths, sauna, which is abounding Schelkovo, Fryazino, Chernogolovka, Balashikha, Ivanteevka, Korolev, Mytishchi, Krasnoarmeysk and other cities of the Moscow region, cannot boast of similar [wood heated saunas]. In cities, it is most often not possible to establish a special wood stove.” 


Sauna stoves are made and exported from Russia by many manufacturers -- virtually all Russian stove manufacturers sell sauna stoves due to their popularity. One big reason for this large export market is the fact that sauna stoves have no emissions requirements in North America, and probably in many other regions of the world, where emissions regulations focus primarily on residential wood stoves. It is common to see Russian sauna stoves exported to countries where their freestanding metal stoves are not.

Wood Stove Usage in Russia - Summary

To sum up the contents of the previous sections, wood stoves in Russian homes generally tend to be multifunctional, used not just for space heat but also for cooking, heating water, and for baths/saunas. The large brick masonry stove still exists in some areas, though more modern, freestanding wood and pellet stoves have also gained popularity in recent years. In general, though, wood heat is regarded as old-fashioned and a bit backwards. Most Russians prefer to heat in a more modern way, so wood and pellet stoves are mostly restricted to those who don’t have any other choice, which includes mostly those in rural or poor areas. Wood heating for saunas, however, is more accepted.

Wood Heat Regulations

Emissions regulations often are the driver for even basic technology advances, leading to safer, more efficient residential stoves. However, unlike North America and most western European countries, Russia does not have any national emission certification process for wood stoves, and we could not find evidence of nascent regulations in any local or regional administrative district. Building codes requirements reference clearances, though only vaguely, from the ones we reviewed, and fire safety protocols also refer to wood stoves. Russia does have standards for the construction of solid fuel heaters related construction and materials. Specifically, this standardapplies to solid-fuel room heaters (hereinafter referred to as heaters), and defines design and operational requirements, safety requirements, test methods, labeling requirements, as well as test fuel requirements for heating apparatus tests. Heating devices are designed for direct heating of the room in which they are installed.”


In 2015, a standard was enacted that “applies to pellet burners with a maximum thermal capacity of up to 100 kW, designed to be installed on the appropriate water heating boilers and to use high-quality pellets. The standard contains requirements and test methods for safety, quality of combustion, performance and maintenance of pellet burners and covers all components of external equipment that affect safety systems.”  We expect these standards may include or reference the type of safety listings like UL that exist in the United States.


One Russian designer of masonry heaters, Igor Kuznetsov, Chairman of the Board of the NGO Development of the Kuznetsov Furnace System, came up with a novel fuel combustion process that claims to exceed EPA minimum emissions standards for wood stoves. 

Biomass as a Resource in Russia

Russia’s massive landmass contains over 20% of the world’s forests, or approximately 763.5 million hectares: this is even bigger than the Amazon rainforest. Hence, forests as a resource have long been used by Russians not only for fuel but also for lumber, agriculture, hunting, and foraging. Specifically with regards to burning wood for heat, the vast forests of Northern Russia meant cheap firewood. Even in the second half of the 19th century, when both Moscow and St. Petersburg had populations of over a million, the price of firewood was still relatively low, thanks to the railways, according to Mikael Loginov. In the 1960s, natural gas from Siberia began to replace other fuels in heating plants in the European part of Russia, and the problem of heat loss over long distances in district networks remained sidelined. The following subsections list two main uses for wood and biomass in two non-wood-stove applications: district heating systems and electricity generation.


Biomass in District Heating Systems

District heating systems, which were constructed in the Soviet period, remain a hallmark of heating in Russia today. With this system, entire towns or parts of cities are heated by a single power plant, which produces heat which is then transferred to buildings in the form of hot water or steam. District heating is controlled by the regional government, which tends to switch the heat on between October and May, though it depends on average daily temperatures and can vary with regions and years. This system tends to be very efficient (though in recent years many old heating systems have been breaking down), and keeps apartments and homes very warm. For example, in parts of Siberia during the winter, it can be -40 degrees Fahrenheit outside, but the district heating system can keep the inside temperatures up to 82.4 degrees Fahrenheit.


District heating systems in many Russian cities are prone to breaking down due to their age and lack of needed repairs. This is when, for many families, wood stoves can be a good alternative. However, it should be noted that it is not common for a wood stove to be running while the district heating system is in working condition -- as one article from Open Democracy points out, Russians are not able to opt out of the district heating system -- if they use a different fuel source, they still have to pay their heating bill.


Unlike much of Western Europe, biomass is not a common heat source across Russian district heating systems. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) reported that in 2010, 0.63 ExaJoules of biomass (wood) for heat both in district heating systems and individual buildings was generated in Russia, or 5.9 x 1014 BTU. To put that in perspective, burning wood for heat makes up about one-tenth of the share of coal that is burned for heat.


While there may not be a national push for biomass district heating across Russia, several smaller regions have expressed interest in switching their fuel source for their district heating to wood heat. The Arkhangelsk region, which boasts lush forest resources, already uses wood and animal waste for its district heating systems. Other regions are also starting to realize the potential, but transitions to biomass are still slow.


As a University of Helsinki study reports, “The share of renewables (mostly biomass) in the heating supply has been minimal… but their potential is significant.” And according to the IRENA report, “From the business perspective, solid biomass CHP [combined heat and power] offers the lowest substitution cost for district heating, compared to the uses of expensive diesel fuel in Siberia.” And though it’s true that the transformation of a district heating system from fossil fuels to biomass can be expensive and difficult, these costs have been found by the Federal Arbitrazh Court of the Northwest District to be “economically well-founded.”


Given Russia’s vast biomass resources and its potential as a heating source, it may seem odd that biomass isn’t more integrated into heating systems in Russia. However, there are scores of obstacles, especially in a society that is not aggressively promoting renewables. A 2008 report from the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) looked at one region which, like most, relies intensively on coal for heat. Conditions may have changed but in 2008 they concluded:


  • Projects face too much uncertainty, since future increases in the price of biomass could lead to an increase in price of the project. 

  • Preliminary calculations indicate that without some monetary returns from carbon savings, projects are unlikely to be financially viable. Hence mechanisms to realize these carbon savings in monetary terms are essential. One difficulty is that these mechanisms incur high transaction costs, which can only be recovered if the project is large enough. Hence these risks need to be well understood and explained to any potential investors.


The overall political atmosphere in Russia tends to not be as accepting of renewable energy due to the immense economic benefit the country receives from fossil fuel exports and its dependency on fossil fuels itself. A widespread, structured transition to renewable heat would also be slow due to the expense of having to change large, centralized power plants. Schools, hospitals, residential areas, and factories are all linked to these district systems, which makes switching to a new heat source an expensive task that isn’t frequently undertaken, according to the University of Helsinki report. However, most of the Soviet-era thermal power plants are due or overdue to be replaced anyway, so it is possible that this could present an opportunity for a switch to renewables.


LIke many other countries, renewable energy sources do not receive the same incentives and subsidies as fossil fuels do in Russia. One expert cited in the University of Helsinki report pointed out how expensive it is to transport wood pellets than it is to transport coal, remarking that it is frequently cheaper to move coal 5000 km than it is to move pellets 500km.


Despite the challenges for biomass in district heating, it is clear that a push for renewable heating exists in several Russian cities and regions, and transitions to biomass heat may happen soon as more heating systems get replaced.

Biomass for Electricity

Russia’s vast forests can perhaps only be rivaled by its huge allotment of fossil fuels – with Russia’s huge oil and natural gas reserves (currently estimated at 17.8 billion tons and 48.8 trillion m3, respectively) the renewable energy industry is tiny by comparison. As of 2015, only 6 of the 156 renewable energy plants in the whole country used biomass; as of 2019, only about 3% of total primary energy demand in Russia was for renewable energy sources.


*data from World Energy Outlook 2020


The Seventh National Communication of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (2017) shows that in recent years, the percentage of harvested timber used for fuel has dropped slightly and stagnated around 14.9 million cubic meters.



Table 1: Calculated Use of Timberland and Production of Certain Types of Product by Activity


2010

2013

2014

2015

2016

Calculated use of timberland (%)

27.4

27.8

29.2

29.3

-

Softwood logs (coniferous) (1 mil. m3)

72.4

72.3

73.9

77.0

82.3

Hardwood logs (deciduous (1 mil. m3)

20.6

22.5

24.5

25.8

28.8

Wood for fuel (1 mil. m3)

15.6

15.1

14.9

14.9

14.9

Untreated wood (i.e. poles and stakes) (1 mil. m3)

8.4

10.0

10.2

9.1

10.5

Data from the Seventh National Communication of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

In recent years, the wood pellet industry in Russia has flourished, with 3.0 million tons of wood pellets being produced in Russia in 2020, according to WhatWood, the only Russian consulting company specializing in timber industry analysis. Additionally, the use of wood biomass for energy is expected to go from 32 million m3 to 75 million m3 from 2010 to 2030. This puts Russia in the top 5 wood pellet producers in the world. Domestic consumption of wood pellets tend to be restricted to those regions with large amounts of forests, those without substantial fossil fuel resources, or those who require seasonal supplies of wood.


For the pellets that do remain in Russia, little priority or support is given them by the Russian government, which is mainly concerned with fossil fuel development.


Much of Russia’s wood pellet production ends up going to large energy companies for generation of electricity. It is unclear how much exactly this leaves for wood pellet usage in domestic heating applications, though in recent years conversion of old district heating systems from fossil fuel to biomass boilers has picked up.


Russia in Perspective

The countries with the largest shares of their population who use wood for heat are China, Mongolia, Russia, and the other former Soviet Republics. Standardized statistics are difficult to come by, as households in Asia often burn a combination of coal, animal dung, crop residues and other types of biomass, and stoves are often used to both heat and cook. This map (pictured) comes from one of the best reports of worldwide wood heating by Ricardo Carvalho, a Portuguese academic who moved to Scandinavia, the report “Wood-Burning Stoves Worldwide: Technology, Innovation and Policy,” does not dig into Russian wood heating, but provides excellent discussion of the issues around finding basic statistics and looking at the the level of heat stove technology in many countries.

 

The table below provides some insight into the residential energy landscape in Russia compared to the US. We could not find statistics like the ones provided by the US Census or the EIA on the number and percent of homes using wood as a primary or secondary heat source. 





Data from Nation Master

Conclusion

In Russia, wood stoves have played a more important role in culture and history, though nowadays they have faded into the background a bit, used mostly in rural, in poor areas, and for applications other than residential heat (i.e., sauna stoves). The wood stove market in Russia definitely exists, and a range of manufacturers provide stoves ranging from sauna stoves, freestanding burzhuika stoves, and masonry stoves. Some high-end manufacturers have also started coming onto the scene, though most of the market demands lower-priced stoves. Finally, potential for biomass heating systems is growing and may result in more biomass district heating systems in coming years, and wood remains an important fuel source for electricity generation.


All of this research can be summarized in the six main conclusions that we found during the course of this report:


  1. Wood heat was replaced in Russian cities, large and small, by the Soviet system of centralized heating through massive coal district heat systems. This went hand-in-hand with the urbanization drive to develop Russia into a more modern, industrialized country. Wood remained the dominant heating fuel across the most rural areas of Russia as well as in Russian dachas (country homes) outside of cities and in private and public baths.


  1. Masonry heaters in Russia are still common in older rural homes and tend to be preferred over freestanding metal stoves, but we received conflicting reports about how many new ones are still being built.


  1. The Russian steel and cast iron stove manufacturing sector creates a wide range of heaters in terms of price, quality and size for the domestic market and for export to former Soviet Republics and eastern Europe. Burzhuika is the common way of referring to the generic metal stove model widely used in Russia and Central Asia for both heating and cooking.


  1. There are no national or regional emissions regulations for wood stoves as far as we could find, though a few Russian-made boilers do appear to meet certain EU emissions requirements.


  1. We found very little information about the amount of wood smoke in residential areas and if wood smoke is a social or political issue anywhere in Russia. Most sources discount the issue, given that most wood stove users tend to reside in remote/rural areas, but say smoke from coal heating is an issue in some towns.


  1. Low rates of residential and district heating with wood mean that the potential for growth in both sectors is substantial. 


These conclusions are tentative and only reflect the information that was available in the form of online Russian and English sources and interviews of people familiar with the Russian stove situation. Further research investigating how wood stoves are used in various parts of the world could further illuminate similarities and differences in the global wood stove community, and provide stakeholders with context, ideas, and a better understanding of how heat is generated in all corners of the world.


* The primary author, Caroline Solomon, is a fellow at the Alliance for Green Heat. John Ackerly is its President. Many thanks to the Masonry Heater Association for their assistance and expertise.


Appendix A: Images and Credit

Exec. Summary: St. Basil’s Cathedral and Vladimir Lenin’s mausoleum seen through hazy smoke from nearby forest and peat fires on August 2, 2010.


History: A sketch of what the oldest adobe stove probably looked like.

Masonry heaters: A traditional Russian stove in a Russian home.


Masonry heaters: The “lonely stoves” of the village of Bolshoe Zarechye. Photos from here and here.


Metal stoves: A diagram of a Burzhuika stove.


Metal stoves: A Burzhuika cast iron stove.


Saunas: A sauna stove from Igor Kuznetsov.


Saunas: The Kaira stove from Tulikivi.



Further reading:

Photo essay: Wood stoves around the world (Oct. 2014)