New York Tests High-Efficiency Wood Heat Technologies

ALBANY, New York, September 30, 2008 (ENS) - Searching for efficient renewable fuels, New York State is investing $1.6 million in the evaluation and improvement of wood-fired heating equipment such as residential and commercial wood boilers, pellet stoves, wood stoves, and emerging grass-pellet technologies.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority today announced the funding of nine projects that will compare energy and emissions performance for equipment that burns wood, the oldest renewable fuel.

Robert Callender, NYSERDA vice president for programs said, "With the increasing use of alternative fuels, we must strive for high energy efficiency and environmental performance. There are opportunities to improve the energy efficiency of wood-fired heating equipment and substantially reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, particulate matter, and other pollutants."

The program will clear a path for New York-grown fuels, create new manufacturing jobs, and improve environmental performance of biomass technologies, he said.

The studies will be conducted in cooperation with New York manufacturing companies, research organizations, universities, and government agencies. NYSERDA is investing $1.6 million in this effort, and research partners will contribute an additional $900,000.

Conventional outdoor wood boilers waste more than half the energy of wood fuel and emit significant amounts of pollutants, NYSERDA says.

The state research agency points to advanced wood-boiler units developed in Europe that can achieve efficiencies greater than 80 percent and produce less than five percent of the particulate emissions of the inefficient wood boilers typically used in the United States.

The advanced systems are known as staged-combustion or gasification boilers, and NYSERDA is working with two New York companies to manufacture these products in the state.

Alternative Fuel Boilers of Dunkirk manufactures the Econoburn wood boiler for the residential market. Econoburn wood boilers burn cleanly, emitting little exhaust gas.

William Raines, president and chief executive of Alternative Fuel Boilers, said, "The Econoburn wood boiler utilizes gasification technology that captures and re-combusts chimney flue gases to dramatically increase energy efficiency and significantly reduce air emissions. We look forward to working with NYSERDA to document the high-quality energy and environmental performance of our completely 'Made in the U.S.A.' boilers."

Advanced Climate Technologies of Schenectady serves the commercial market.

ACT's project at the Cayuga Nature Center in Ithaca will demonstrate a fully automated, 90 percent efficient wood-gasification boiler technology that is proven in Europe and adapted for the U.S. market.

These systems have emissions that are better than conventional wood boilers and comparable to typical oil or gas boilers. Mid-sized buildings of between 10,000 and 100,000 square feet represent 90 percent of the boiler market in the United States and are prime targets for these wood systems which can achieve rapid paybacks when replacing fossil-fuel boilers.

NYSERDA is funding three studies that will compare conventional commercial biomass systems and high-efficiency European-style gasification biomass boilers to oil-fired systems.

The studies will evaluate energy efficiency and emissions for woody biomass in several forms - wood chips with bark, wood chips without bark, and wood pellets.

These studies of small-scale wood boilers will be conducted by Clarkson University, the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, and Advanced Climate Technologies. The demonstration at Clarkson will be the first project for an innovative Energy Park being developed to study alternative energy sources on the campus.

There also is recent increased interest in pelletized grass for heating.

NYSERDA is working with Cornell University and the State University of New York at Canton in manufacturing grass pellets, identifying the operational requirements for grass pellet stoves and boilers, determining stove and boiler compatibility with grass pellets, and evaluating the emissions from these systems.

Finally, NYSERDA is supporting a study to evaluate the effects of emissions from wood combustion on local air quality. Wood combustion may be more common in rural areas where there are fewer homes, but due to the high particle emissions rate of conventional wood burning technologies, wood smoke concentrations in local air can become elevated, depending on meteorological conditions and local topography.

{Photo: Many different types of biomass pellet fuel are being developed from particle board to switchgrass to the distillers grains left from ethanol production. (Photo by Icep Lee)

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