North Dakota’s Subterranean Fuel Feedstock

By Chris Hanson

Biomass Magazine

Sugar beets as an advanced biofuel feedstock has North Dakota scientists researching outside of the box.

When the advanced biofuel industry thinks feedstocks, ideas may drift toward dried corn stover on a freshly harvested field, or swathes of switchgrass or miscanthus swaying in the breeze. In the Red River Valley and Drift Prairie regions of North Dakota, however, the next advanced biofuel might be found below the ground in the form of sugar beets. But why sugar beets?



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“Why not sugar beets,” replies David Ripplinger, assistant professor at the agribusiness and applied economics department at North Dakota State University. The feedstock has several benefits to both growers and biofuel producers. For growers, the plant improves soil health with its deep tap root, yields relatively high numbers and can gain access to nutrients available in lower soil depths, he explains. “It’s also relatively high-yielding. If you did an ethanol yield per acre, it’s about twice that of corn.”


Farmers also gain a nitrogen credit due to the left-behind plant tops, he adds. “That ends up being quite a bit of nitrogen on a per acre basis.” 



From a biofuel producer standpoint, the beets are a sugar-rich source that can be processed and handled more easily than food-grade sugar. “It’s a sugar crop, so you don’t have to go through the effort of converting starch or cellulose into sugar,” Ripplinger says. “It’s already in that form.” The sugar being used in the process would not be necessarily taken away from the food production chain since food-grade sugar producers prefer beets with a sugar content greater than 12 percent, whereas this project could utilize beets under the threshold.”  



Additionally, North Dakota is one of the few locations where beet production remains fairly steady, Ripplinger says. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, the upper Midwest, which includes only North Dakota and Minnesota, harvests the most sugar beets. North Dakota alone harvested 225,000 acres of sugar beets during the 2013-’14 growing season, more than the totals reported from the Great Plains and Great Lakes regions.  



Converting the beets to a usable material does not come without its challenges, Ripplinger explains. “You’re essentially re-engineering the front-end, even though it’s not as many pieces or quite as delicate as a process,” he says. “Making sure that everything works individually, as well as together, and scaling from bench-scale to commercial scale, that’s still a pretty big deal.

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The crop is also relatively delicate when it comes to herbicide carryover from field applications. For instance, herbicides containing sulfentrazone can have rotational restrictions of 24 months or longer, while other chemicals, such as imazethapyr, has 40-month rotational restrictions, according to Ripplinger. “You can certainly grow with the right chemical regime,” he says. “But some growers, who grow certain crops or certain practices, you have to let them know years in advance because the carryover for certain chemicals can be significant.” 



Converting beets to edible sugars requires roughly 38 different steps, Ripplinger says, whereas converting it to an industrial sugar requires four steps. The beets are run through a hammer mill, a modified ribbon mixer with hot water spray, and a chamber filter press. Afterward, the beet pulp can be used for pellet production, while the sugary beet juice can be used in biofuel production.



Based on a life-cycle analysis at NDSU, the beets could potentially qualify as an advanced biofuel feedstock, Ripplinger says. In October 2011, a petition was submitted to the U.S. EPA to establish its use as an advanced biofuel pathway, however, the agency’s evaluation revamp has put it and other potential pathways in a slight delay, he says. 



Although the petition delay presents a challenge in the project, it has not stopped the project partners from evaluating sites across North Dakota. Last October, the project developers saw the promise behind the project and decided to develop criteria for a site location process, Ripplinger recalls. “Initially, they thought there would be no more than a few sites,” he adds. “By the time they were done, they realized there were five sites that were possibilities.”



The project developers toured the sites in January and March, evaluating possible locations and engaging sugar beet growers on the possibility of growing the beets as an industrial crop. “The purpose of both of those meetings was really to gauge grower interest,” Ripplinger says. “Without growers willing to commit, there really isn’t a project because it’s dependent on locally available feedstocks. There is no alternative, you can’t easily store and transport them, so that became a key.” 

The proposed 20-MMgy refinery would require roughly 750,000 tons of beets primarily sourced within 20 miles of the facility, and is expected to be built as soon as 2016. The project developers hope to finalize processing and commercialization strategies, which includes feedstock commitments and capitalization.

Read the original here.

Massachusetts grants $3.5 million to renewable thermal industry

From Biomass Magazine

Massachusetts has dedicated $3.5 million to nine renewable thermal projects in the state through a new grant program, the Massachusetts Renewable Thermal Business Investment Financing Program.
Funds for the program are being drawn from the state’s Alternative Compliance Payment funds, which are payments made by electricity suppliers when they do not meet state renewable energy portfolio standard obligations. Payment amounts vary according to technology class and compliance year. For example, in 2014, suppliers in RPS Class I—which includes sources installed after 1997—must pay $66.16 per MWh not achieved.
 Each year, ACP funds are allocated by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. Through the new program, a variety of technologies are eligible for funding, including woody biomass, grass pellets, advanced biofuels, biogas, solar thermal, and inverter driven air and ground source heat pumps.
Some of the funded projects include a $1 million to Rocky Mountain Wood in Wilbraham, Mass., for development of a community-scale wood pellet manufacturing facility, over $800,000 to Maine Energy Systems for a new bulk pellet distribution facility and pellet boiler showroom in Salisbury, Mass., and a $75,000 grant to the Biomass Thermal Energy Council for development of an efficiency test procedures for commercial-sized, solid biomass boilers.

Read the original here.

 

EIA: U.S. wood pellets doubled in 2013 due to European demand

By U.S. Energy Information Administration

Wood pellet exports from the United States nearly doubled last year, from 1.6 million short tons (approximately 22 trillion Btu) in 2012 to 3.2 million short tons in 2013. More than 98 percent of these exports were delivered to Europe, and 99 percent originated from ports in the

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southeastern and lower Mid-Atlantic regions of the country.

Wood pellets are traditionally manufactured from wood waste (including sawdust, shavings, and wood chips) that results from wood processing activities, but they can also be produced from unprocessed harvested wood (generally at a higher cost). Wood pellets are primarily used as a residential heating fuel in the United States, but wood pellets can also be used for commercial heating and power generation applications. As recently as 2008, the U.S. Forest Service estimated that approximately 80 percent of U.S. wood pellet production was consumed domestically. However, because of strong demand growth in Europe, wood pellet exports have been the driving factor in the growth of domestic wood pellet production in recent years.

Growth of U.S. wood pellet exports has been concentrated in southeastern states, which have advantages in terms of abundant material supply and relatively low shipping costs to Europe. Transportation cost is a large part of the total cost of wood pellets; for example, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, transportation accounted for a quarter of the delivered price of wood pellets from the Southeast to the Netherlands in mid-2013. Shipping costs generally increase with distance, so the proximity of the United States to Europe compared to wood pellet manufacturers in Brazil and western Canada provides a pricing advantage for U.S. wood pellet exporters.

European countries, particularly the United Kingdom, are using wood pellets to replace coal for electricity generation and space heating. A principal driver in market activity is the European Commission’s 2020 climate and energy package, binding legislation enacted in 2009 that implements the European Union’s 20-20-20 targets. The 20-20-20 targets have three individual goals for 2020: to reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels, to increase the renewable portion of EU energy consumption by 20 percent, and to improve EU energy efficiency by 20 percent.
In 2013, the top five importing countries of U.S. wood pellets exports were all European: the United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Italy. The United Kingdom accounted for the majority (59 percent) of U.S. wood pellet exports, and more than tripled its imports from the United States between 2012 and 2013.

The United Kingdom’s wood pellet imports from all sources have grown from near zero in 2009 to more than 3.5 million short tons in 2013. Because of the United Kingdom’s Renewables Obligation program, the operators of several large coal-fired power plants have either retrofitted existing units to cofire biomass wood pellets with coal or have converted to 100 percent biomass. The Drax power plant—rated at nearly 4,000 megawatts and the largest coal-fired power plant in the United Kingdom—is in the process of implementing plans to convert half of its six generating units to run solely on wood pellets. The first of these three units entered service in 2013, while the remaining two conversions are planned for completion in 2015. According to Eurostat, the United Kingdom is also a major importer of wood pellets from Canada and, to a lesser extent, from other European sources. Until 2013, Canada was the primary source of the United Kingdom’s import supply.

Read the original here.

IRENA: Renewables employ 6.5 million globally

By Erin Voegele

Biomass Magazine

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has published the results of a study that determined 6.5 million people were employed by the renewable energy globally last year. The report, titled “Renewable Energy and Jobs—Annual Review 2014,” highlights the important role that renewables continue to play in job creation and growth in the global economy.

According to the report, bioenergy jobs around the world are mainly concentrated in feedstock production. Liquid biofuels, biomass and biogas industries are

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estimated to employ a respective 1.45 million, 834,000 and 264,000 people.

The report indicates that only the solar industry employs more people than the liquid biofuels industry on a global basis. According to the analysis, the largest share of the 1.45 million liquid biofuels jobs are related to the growing and harvesting of feedstock. Processing the feedstock into fuels also accounts for a portion of the employment. While the U.S. is the world’s largest biofuel producer, Brazil’s biofuel industry employs more people. However, as Brazil continues to mechanize feedstock production, the number of jobs is falling. The report estimates Brazil’s direct jobs in feedstock declined 7 percent from 2011 to 2012. European Union countries accounted for an estimated 108,000 liquid biofuel jobs in 2012.

According to the report, Europe was home to more than 1.2 million renewable energy jobs in 2012, with wind, solar photovoltaic and solid biomass industries being the largest employers. Together, Germany, France, Italy and Spain accounted for 60 percent of all European renewable energy jobs. In 2012, European wind and solid biomass posted significant job gains, while liquid biofuels, biogas and geothermal jobs were up only slightly. The biomass industry was also a significant employer in China in recent years.

According to IRENA, skill shortages around the world are creating bottlenecks to the expansion of renewable energy. In the bioenergy sector, employers indicated that R&D and design engineering positions, service technician jobs and training positions were difficult to fill.

Read the original here.

Obama climate change report points to bioenergy for forest health

The Obama Administration has released a new U.S. National Climate Assessment, which it describes as the most comprehensive scientific climate change assessment ever generated. The report was developed over four years by hundreds of climate scientists and technical experts and took into consideration input from thousands of public and outside organizations, and details current and future impacts of climate change on every region of America, as well as major sectors of the U.S. economy.

A White House summary of the report provides brief synopses of climate change impacts on each region of the U.S.

For the Great Plains—Wyoming,  North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas— it says the region “experiences multiple climate and weather hazards, including floods, droughts, severe storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, and winter storms. In much of the Great Plains, too little precipitation falls to replace that needed by humans, plants, and animals…These variable conditions already stress communities and cause billions of dollars in damage. Climate change will add to both stress and costs…Rising temperatures lead to increased demand for water and energy and impacts on agricultural practices.”

Transportation, energy, water, agriculture, ecosystem and health effects of increasing temperatures and extreme weather are detailed in the report. On health impacts specifically, it suggests climate change already is and will continue to threaten human health and wellbeing in many ways, including through impacts from increased extreme weather events, wildfire, decreased air quality, threats to mental health, and illnesses transmitted by food, water, and disease carriers such as mosquitoes and ticks.”
On climate change’s impact on forests, it emphasizes increased vulnerability to ecosystem changes and tree mortality through fire, insect infestations, drought, and disease outbreaks, and suggests that bioenergy could emerge as a new market for wood, as it could aid in the restoration of forests killed by drought, insects, and fire.

The report acknowledges the potential of utilizing low-value wood and forest thinnings for energy to lower carbon emissions from those of fossil fuels, and points out that the total amount of carbon stored in U.S. forests and wood products equals roughly 25 years’ worth of U.S. heat-trapping gasses at current emission rates.

Biomass Power Association President and CEO Bob Cleaves commended the report’s address to the use of low-value wood for energy and carbon emissions reductions. “The report emphasizes that forest biomass energy could be one component of an overall bioenergy strategy to reduce emissions of carbon from fossil fuel, while also improving water quality, and maintaining lands for timber production as an alternative to other socioeconomic option,” he said.

 “The report highlights the potential for bioenergy, noting that plant-based material contributes about 28 percent of America’s renewable energy supply,” Cleaves added. “Bioenergy has the potential of displacing 30 percent of the nation’s current U.S. petroleum consumption …we look forward to working with the administration to implement bioenergy policies that provide predictable and long-term markets for biomass energy as we do our part to fight climate change.”

The 25X25 Alliance— a group of agricultural, forestry, environmental, conservation and other organizations and businesses that are working to advance the goal of securing 25 percent of the nation’s energy needs from renewable sources by the year 2025—said the authors of the report understand that renewable energy, including wind, solar, biomass, biofuels, geothermal and hydro, will play a key role in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change.  In a statement issued on the assessment, it pointed out that emissions can be avoided through the use of biofuels, providing that regulators leave intact the required blending requirements called for by Congress in the federal renewable fuel standard.

Access the assessment here
 

EIA: US added 549 MW of biomass capacity last year

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From Biomass Magazine

By Erin Voegle

Recently published U.S. Energy Infrastructure Administration data shows that U.S. added 549 MW of biomass-fired power plant capacity last year. According to the EIA, 511 MW of that capacity was from wood-fire or wood waste-fired facilities. The remaining 38 MW of capacity is fired with other forms of biomass, including biogenic municipal solid waste, landfill gas, sludge waste, agricultural byproducts and others.

Virginia added the highest share of that capacity, followed by Florida, Georgia, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. EIA indicates that net summer capacity of utility scale units fired by biomass sources in Virginia increased from 666.8 MW in December 2012 to 952.1 MW in December 2013. In Florida, capacity increased from 1,036.7 MW to 1,214.0 MW and in Georgia from 648.8 MW to 741.8 MW. New Hampshire capacity also increases substantially, from 162.4 MW to 245.1 MW, followed by Wisconsin, which increased biomass capacity from 321.5 MW to 390.9 MW.

In addition to the biomass capacity, the U.S. added 6,861 MW of natural gas capacity in 2013, along with 2,193 MW of solar photovoltaic capacity, 1,507 MW of coal capacity, 1,032 MW of wind capacity 384 MW of hydroelectric capacity and 214 MW of capacity from other sources.

All together, the U.S. added 13,500 MW of capacity in 2013, which the EIA said is less than half of what was added in 2012. Nearly half of 2013 capacity additions were in California.
Additional information is available on the EIA website.

Read the original article here.

The Multifaceted Benefits of Pellets

FutureMetrics’ William Strauss outlines the many benefits expanded pellet heating could bring to the U.S.

By William Strauss | March 29, 2014

When people talk about energy, particularly at the federal level, they think of electricity and transportation.  In the northern states, those two large sectors account for about 65 percent of energy use.  The other 35 percent—which is heat for homes and businesses— is often ignored in policy discussions.

The reason this matters is that the heat in many homes is produced from burning imported petroleum-based fossil fuel in boilers or furnaces. For northern states that are dependent in part on heating oil and propane, the majority of every dollar spent on heating fuel leaves the regional economy, and much of that money spent on heating leaves the country.

 If heating oil were a product of U.S. petroleum, at least the money spent would stay in the country.  But most of the heating oil refined in the U.S. for the northern markets is not. Only about 19 percent of the heating oil refined in the Gulf Coast refineries comes from petroleum extracted from U.S. wells
At a price of $3.80 per gallon, FutureMetrics estimates that about 770,000 jobs are exported to the other countries that supply the petroleum for heating oil and some of the propane used to keep Northern Tier states’ homes and business warm.  This estimate excludes areas that already heat with natural gas or electricity, and areas that are likely to get natural gas.

A very optimistic scenario might suggest that by 2020, most urban centers will have natural gas.  But that will leave a lot of homes and business on heating oil or propane.  The pictured chart shows the number of rural households in the northern tier states that are not on natural gas, most of which will never have a natural gas connection.

It would be irresponsible, given the current demands by the pulp and paper industry, to suggest that there is sufficient sustainable forest feedstock today to make pellets to heat 6 million homes.  But the world is changing, and demand for fiber from our working forests for papermaking will change dramatically in the coming decade.

We are already almost half way to having enough pellet fuel for 6 million homes.  Currently, the U.S. produces nearly 10.4 million tons per year of wood pellets annually.  Another 7.9 million tons of capacity is under construction or in the advanced development phase.  Some of the existing production and almost all of the new capacity is earmarked for export into overseas markets.  If those pellets were to stay here for our heating markets, they would heat almost 2.6 million homes.

The conversion from petroleum-based heating fuel to premium wood pellet fuel has many benefits, which accrue from three key pathways that have positive multiplier effects: More than 75 percent of each dollar spent on heating oil does not stay in the local economy, and jobs are exported along with that money.  Locally produced pellet fuel keeps almost 100 percent of every dollar spent circulating locally; pellet fuel is about half the price of heating oil for the same heating energy, and those savings increase the income that households and businesses have to spend in the local economy; the supply chain for harvesting, manufacturing and distributing sustainable biomass creates jobs.

Additionally, the conversion of 6 million homes and businesses from heating oil and propane to wood pellets would reduce net carbon emissions in the U.S. by 81.6 million tons per year.

The premium wood pellet sector can deliver lower end-user heating costs, a higher degree of energy independence, needed jobs from three important pathways, and can reduce carbon dioxide emissions while doing so.

Author: William Strauss
President, FutureMetrics
williamstrauss@futuremetrics.com
207-824-7428

FutureMetrics suggests 4.3 million homes ripe for pellet heat

From Biomass Magazine
By Sue Retka Schill | March 10, 2014
A new white paper from FutureMetrics LLC makes the case for pellet heat, analyzing the number of rural households and the availability of sustainable forestry resources, concluding that not only will buying local for pellet heat lower consumer heat and hot water energy bills, but keep the money in the local economy and create jobs.

In the paper, William Straus, president of FutureMetrics, says more than 4.3 million northern tier homes that are dependent on heating oil or propane will most likely never get pipeline natural gas or home-delivered compressed natural gas (CNG).  States vary widely in the fuel used for heating. In Illinois, 79.7 percent of homes are on natural gas while in Maine 68.7 percent of homes and businesses use heating oil and only 5 percent on pipeline natural gas.

Drawing from U.S. Census and Energy Information Administration data, the paper looks at the number of household in northern tier states in rural areas that are not on natural gas, estimating the total at about 6 million. Michigan leads with close to 850,000 households, followed by Ohio and New York with about 700,000 each and Wisconsin at about 525,000. Indiana, Minnesota and Illinois hover around 400,000 households, followed by Iowa with 300,000 and Maine and Oregon at around 250,000 households.

Strauss then overlays U.S. Forest Service inventory data to asses which states could sustainably supply 100 percent of its rural homes with wood pellets for heating, citing  Maine, Oregon, Washington, New Hampshire, Vermont and Pennsylvania as all having sufficient resources to supply households in those states, plus the potential to export to other states.

The paper delves into price comparisons with competing fuels. “The current retail price for pellet fuel in the New England area is between $200 and $250 per ton,” it says. “CNG is not competitive with pellet fuel at a delivered price equivalent to $376 per ton of pellet fuel.”  And, though natural gas has been economical for those who can get, “there is another natural gas market trend that will support pellets remaining cost competitive for heating,” the report says. “As the U.S. exports more natural, prices will be set by global rather than domestic markets.”

“High efficiency fully automatic pellet fueled boilers, and the bulk pellet fuel delivery trucks to serve them, need to become more commonplace in the U.S. just as they already have in many European countries and some areas in the U.S. Northeast like Maine and New Hampshire,” the paper concludes.

 

 

Taglich Private Equity Completes Acquisition of Lignetics, Inc.

March 18, 2014                   

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Ken Tucker (208) 263-0564
 _______________
Taglich Private Equity Completes Acquisition of Lignetics, Inc.

Sandpoint, Idaho – Ken Tucker, CEO of Lignetics, Inc. (“Lignetics”), announced today the acquisition of Lignetics by Taglich Private Equity LLC (“Taglich”), Management and Gladstone Capital Corporation, who provided subordinated debt and equity financing, along with Texas Capital Bank, who provided senior debt in support of the transaction.  “Completing this transaction marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter in Lignetics’ history as the market leader in the residential wood pellet industry,” Tucker said.  “The management team of Lignetics is very excited to be partnering with Taglich, and looks forward to their support in our Company’s continued growth and development.”

Tucker also noted that the transaction will give Lignetics the capital base to pursue expansion plans.  “We were looking for investors that would bring stable leadership to the company and a long term view, and this transaction has accomplished that,” said Tucker.  “We are excited about the growth opportunities in our business and believe we have chosen excellent partners to support us.”  

William Morris, Managing Director of Taglich Private Equity added, “Taglich is excited about our investment in Lignetics and we are proud to be able to support the Management Team in the continued growth of the organization, both organically and through add-on acquisitions.  We view our investment as a true partnership with Management and are very excited about the Company’s future growth prospects.”

Founded in 1983 and headquartered in Sandpoint, ID, Lignetics manufactures and distributes branded wood pellets from its three U.S. production facilities.  With more than 30 years in the wood pellet industry, Lignetics is one of the founding pioneers of manufacturing premium wood pellets and Pres-to-Logs® fire logs for home heating.  Lignetics has a long tradition of providing the highest quality wood pellets used as a renewable fuel for home and industrial heating, animal bedding under its “EZ Equine” brand, absorption products used in the oil & gas industry as well as barbeque wood pellets.  Lignetics also manufactures all-natural Pres-to-Logs® fire logs, which along with their wood pellets, are 100% renewable and are generated from recycled sawdust at lumber and flooring manufacturing facilities that could otherwise be destined for landfills.  Only all-natural materials are used in the production of Lignetics wood pellets and Pres-to-Logs® fire logs, ensuring a clean and safe burn.

Taglich Private Equity LLC is a financial sponsor which has been investing since 2001 in lower middle market manufacturing, business service and consumer product companies.  Taglich has completed transactions totaling over $450 million funded primarily with capital provided by Taglich Brothers, Inc., a full service brokerage firm managing capital in both public and private investments.  Taglich focuses on finding sound investment opportunities with capable management and delivering significant growth resources and capital to portfolio investments.  For more information on Taglich Private Equity LLC please visit www.taglichpe.com.   

Wood pellet stoves help some stave off rising heating costs

From USA TODAY.

Energy analysts blame record demand, record withdrawals from storage and risks to short-term production.
Steve Schutz of New Berlin knows how frustrated people can get when their heating bills soar and they have only one choice of heating fuel, such as propane, which has tripled in price in recent weeks. Schutz, owner of Sunnyslope Gardens Inc., lowered his heating bill between $2,000 and $3,000 a year by installing wood pellet stoves in his greenhouses and home nine years ago.

Now the stoves are his primary heating source, supplemented by natural gas.
Every morning, Schutz checks his stoves and empties the ash pots. It takes him about an hour to make the rounds for six stoves before he leaves them unattended.
“There is a learning curve. You’re dealing with fire, so you have to check things,” he said.

A lot of people appear to be lining up for that learning curve, especially in rural areas, where they’ve faced propane shortages as well as rising prices.
National trade groups say sales of pellets and pellet stoves are climbing this year, the result of a winter people are likely to remember for decades.
Dejno’s Inc., a pellet manufacturer in Kenosha, Wis., has seen its business heat up as more people turn to pellet stoves and dial back their propane use.
The Kenosha mill takes sawdust and shavings from companies in the home construction industry and presses those waste materials into pellets.
It keeps the waste out of landfills and is a renewable source of homegrown energy, said Larry Dejno, company vice president.
Earth Sense Energy Systems, in the Outagamie County town of Dale, Wis., claims to be the nation’s largest pellet stove dealership.
“Sales are much stronger than average now, driven by high propane costs more so than the cold,” said Chad Curtis, operations manager for the company, which has been in the pellet stove business for 22 years.
The stoves burn compacted pellets, usually made of wood, but some models can burn nutshells, corn kernels and small wood chips. They’re more convenient to operate than ordinary wood stoves or fireplaces, and some have much higher heating efficiencies, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
A stove rated at 60,000 Btu can heat a 2,000-square-foot home, while a stove rated at 42,000 Btu can heat a 1,300-square-foot space, the agency says.
What most homeowners want to know is how much money they could save from heating with a pellet stove compared with using propane, fuel oil or natural gas.
With propane priced at more than $4 a gallon, an equivalent amount of heat from wood pellets would be about five times cheaper, according to Mark Knaebe, forest products technologist with the USDA Forest Products Laboratory.
“It’s a no-brainer for propane and fuel oil users. You would want to switch over to a good wood system,” Knaebe said.
For someone heating with natural gas, the savings wouldn’t amount to much, Knaebe said. That could change, though, if natural gas prices were to increase considerably, as they have in the past.
When propane and fuel oil prices rise, so do pellet stove sales.
The best time to buy a stove and pellets is in the summer, when people have forgotten about heating costs and stove dealerships want to clear out inventory from the previous winter.
Stove prices vary widely, from about $1,200 to $4,000, plus installation and other costs that could include a higher home insurance premium for having a wood burner. The cost of pellets is about $4 per 40-pound bag, with many homeowners using a bag a day to heat their homes or supplement another source of heat.
Most of the stoves don’t need an expensive chimney. Free-standing units resemble a conventional wood stove and generally heat a single room well. But they won’t heat adjacent areas unless there’s a fan to move the warm air between rooms.
The stoves have a fuel hopper to store the pellets until they’re needed for burning. Most hoppers hold 35 to 130 pounds of fuel.
A feeder device, like a large screw, drops a few pellets at a time into a combustion chamber for burning. How quickly the pellets are fed into the burner determines the heat output.
The stoves have to be cleaned by the homeowner, including emptying a pot that holds the ashes. They also require electricity to run fans, controls and pellet feeders. Under normal usage, a stove would use about $9 worth of electricity a month, according to the Department of Energy.
“Unless the stove has a backup power supply, the loss of electric power results in no heat and possibly some smoke in the house,” the agency says.
Many people use a pellet stove to supplement or replace their main heating source until propane, natural gas or fuel oil prices go down. For comparison purposes, the Forest Products Laboratory has a fuel-cost calculator on its website, www.fpl.fs.fed.us.
The current propane crisis is a reminder that it’s smart to have two ways to heat your home, said John Crouch, spokesman for the Pellet Fuels Institute in Sacramento, Calif.
“It gives you some independence. When you have only one way to heat your home, you’re stuck with whatever that fuel price is,” he said.