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US case study: the unseen benefits of renewable fuel heating

Beth Gasser

American Energy Systems discusses the benefits of domestic biomass burning appliances in the U.S.

As pellet stoves replace traditional fires as a primary source of heat for homes, they take a much more prominent place in the home. No longer relinquished to the basement like their predecessors, biomass burning appliances offer main floor heating, easy access, and undeniable ambiance.

Fuel in unlikely places

And a far less personal benefit is the mountains of garbage biomass-burning appliances are able to keep out of the landfill sites.

As technology develops and the U.S. garbage crisis gets more difficult to deal with, creative minds continue to explore ways to use garbage and byproducts as a never-ending source of renewable energy. The technology to burn a multitude of biomass in pellet stoves exists, and people across the U.S. (not to mention the world) are embracing ways to heat their homes for significantly less; with fuel that was once earmarked for landfill.

One niche example is cherry pits. In areas where cherries are produced and processed, the pits are typically dried down to prevent moulding and then buried underground. Pellet stoves equipped with the technology to burn a variety of fuels can easily and efficiently burn dried cherry pits. Using cherry pits for fuel has created jobs, and a source of fuel that would otherwise been wasted.

An increasing number of companies take garbage and other waste, pelletise it it, and sell it on as a biomass renewable fuel. Paper mills for example have found that instead of throwing away bad paper, they can produce paper pellets.

Investing in local communities

A multi-fuel burning appliance allows owners to shop for local renewable fuel and burn what is most readily available and low in price.

The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of corn, with about 400,000 farms across the country. Shelled field corn, in its pure form, is an excellent source of fuel and can be purchased locally across much of the country.

When buying corn to burn in pellet stoves, it can be purchased from local farmers and businesses without the additional costs of shipping, processing, and packaging. Unlike the refining process required to turn corn into ethanol, corn burning stoves simply require the corn to be dry (less than 15%).

Corn, wheat, wood pellets, cherry pits, wood, and paper pellets are just a few of the renewable resources consumers buy locally.

Mark Beaton of rural Fargo, North Dakota made the decision to heat with a flex-fuel stove a while back. This decision has saved him money, kept dollars local, and made a huge difference in the warmth of his home during the coldest months. The flexibility of fuel is something he likes: “I burn corn in the extreme cold temperatures, but start and end the season burning wood pellets. I’ve actually found that corn burns so hot, that we have to switch to wood pellets” during periods of milder temperatures.

On the horizon

There’s big news on the horizon as far as alternative heating prices are concerned. It’s big news if you own a pellet stove that burns corn as its primary source of renewable fuel.

With a record crop of corn projected, 2012’s drought behind us, and corn prices hovering around US$4 per bushel, many believe that corn will surpass wood pellets as the cheapest renewable fuel option available for the 2013-14 heating season.

Renewable energy doesn’t get enough attention in mainstream media, but it should. There are countless benefits of heating with renewable fuel that thousands of homeowners have discovered for themselves. We just need to make sure everybody gets a chance to experience the unseen benefits of renewable energy.

American Energy Systems has been inventing and manufacturing alternative heating products that burn a variety of wood pellets, corn, and other biomass fuels since 1973. AES has achieved international recognition for its MagnuM Countryside pellet (multi-fuel) stove and are recognised in the hearth industry as leaders in Biomass & Corn burning technology. 

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Bioenergy  •  Policy, investment and markets