red sign with white letters reading Wood Burning Prohibited

Clean Burning of Biomass

red sign with white letters saying Wood Burning Prohibited

Scotland has banned the use of climate polluting home heating systems such as oil and gas boilers, and wood burning stoves (except in cases of need) in new construction. Heating homes creates one fifth of Scotland’s CO2e. The plan is to switch to electric heat pumps, hydrogen and tighter, better-insulated homes in an effort to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-68778757

Oil and gas (fossil fuel) burners create too much CO2. Burning renewably harvested biomass can emit close to zero CO2, but old stoves make too much black smoke which is ~2000 times worse for climate change compared to CO2 by weight.

Heating stoves that burn sustainable biomass cleanly enough to protect health and climate are starting to become available. Testing the new generation of stoves in use will show whether biomass can join solar, wind, and hydro as a useful renewable energy resource in the post fossil fuel era.

Maybe those red signs will become green?

Green sign saying Sure, Light Up
thermal image of house juxtaposed with daylight image of same house

COP 28: Near-zero emissions in global building sectors

thermal image of a house juxtaposed with daylight image of same house
Heat can constantly leak out of older homes. Photo: Gina Sanders

Aprovecho is investigating how to design and manufacture biomass-heating stoves that protect health and climate when burning renewably harvested biomass. Of course, staying warm depends on many factors including how much energy is being leaked from the building.

Net-zero buildings are usually tight and well insulated. A net-zero home can have a heating load of 10,000 to 15,000 Btuh (or ~3 to 4 kW) in a cold, northern climate. At COP 28, a minority of nations agreed to move towards net zero homes to reduce climate change by heating the better buildings with renewables. Green Building Advisor: 28 Countries Sign Buildings Breakthrough Agreement at COP28

Since the 1970’s, architects and engineers have learned how to dramatically reduce energy losses in buildings. Many net-zero homes take advantage of solar power to assist heating and create electricity. Solar gain helps a tight, well-insulated home to stay warm.

The United Nations found that buildings and construction account for 39% of total carbon emissions annually. Net Zero Homes: Your Guide to the Greenest Housing Option  If a new generation of very clean burning biomass heating stoves can protect health and climate, might they assist COP* countries to move towards near-zero emissions in global building sectors? *COP is the decision-making body of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Cleaner Burning Biomass Stoves: In Homes!

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The British Petroleum clean burning Oorja FD-TLUD stove from India

If protecting health and climate are important in stove projects, why not monetize the reductions of health/climate pollutants in carbon-offset projects?

Only the reduction in fuel use earns carbon income now!

With equal heat transfer efficiency, dirty burning stoves earn as much as clean burning stoves.

Dirty burning stoves are less expensive. “Market demand” reinforces the use of biomass stoves with low combustion efficiency.

Why not add income from reductions in CO, PM2.5 and Black Carbon, etc. to carbon projects to get cleaner burning stoves into use?

The approved 2017 Gold Standard Methodology already exists to do this! See: www.goldstandard.org/articles/black-carbon-and-other-short-lived-climate-pollutants

Moving Forward: Thanks to Jim Jetter’s EPA Lab!

Champion (2021) average energy emission factors (g/MJ) from ISO high, medium, and low tests. 

Champion, Wyatt M., et al. “Cookstove Emissions and Performance Evaluation Using a New ISO Protocol and Comparison of Results with Previous Test Protocols.” Environmental Science & Technology, 2021, 55, (22), 15333-15342.
DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.1c03390

Lab testing can quickly compare emissions from stoves. The EPA and ARC labs now measure the climate emission factors, not just PM2.5 and CO. It has been proven that only field tests show real world performance. Together, lab and field tests help to move stoves forward as we get closer to market driven stoves that please cooks, successfully cook food, use a lot less fuel, and protect health/climate.

The above chart contains a lot of information. Some takeaways are:

  1. Wow! The Three Stone Fire (TSF) was pretty bad! 943g/MJ for PM2.5, 15.5 g/MJ for CO.
  2. Charcoal made ~90% less PM2.5.
  3. The Carbon Monoxide (CO) from charcoal was only a bit higher than the Three Stone Fire (19.2g/MJ).
  4. LPG did so well! (Too bad that we are entering the end of the fossil fuel era).
  5. The forced draft pellet stove looked great, as well. (PM2.5: 30g/MJ, 2.2g/MJ CO)
  6. Black Carbon (EC) is much worse than CO2 for climate change. Many of the stoves, except the Rocket stove, successfully reduced Black Carbon. 
  7.  In this recent lab test, as in the previous MacCarthy study (2008), the Rocket stove emitted a lot of Black Carbon.  www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0973082608604299
  8. R&D has shown that the Rocket stove requires successful forced draft mixing at high temperatures to decrease emissions of Black Carbon and potentially address climate. 

When the emissions factors are summed and converted to global warming potential the forced draft stoves have the potential to generate large amounts of carbon offsets. 

Happy Holidays, 2023!

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That the days are shorter is easy to attest to here at Blue Mountain. Our campus is wedged between parallel rows of 100-foot tall Fir trees. Yesterday, the rare sun fell down below the celestial horizon at 2PM.  We envy the valley farmers whose day lasts until around five. On the other hand, being surrounded by the forest up here makes the air sweet and clean. But only when the wood burning heating and cooking stoves that we are developing and testing are protecting health and climate.

It can be so terrible when traditional stoves are belching smoke! I have had pneumonia three times and get nervous when my throat gets sore. Clean burning makes me a lot happier. 

HEALTH: Can biomass be burned cleanly enough to protect air quality when warming houses and cooking food? 

CLIMATE: Can the Global Warming Potential of burned biomass meet the Paris Agreements and join solar, hydro and wind as a renewable energy source? 

Sure, we do both every day.  

Celebrating life and scientific endeavor in the forest becomes pleasant and comforting when we are toasty warm, and the smoke disappears. 

Feels downright civilized.

Electricity: Planning for Net Zero by 2040

www.weforum.org/agenda/2023/04/electricity-generation-solar-wind-renewables-ember/
  • Transitioning to carbon neutral electric generation would replace a big climate problem in the U.S., since about 60% of its electricity comes from burning natural gas. 
  • The World Energy Forum forecasts that around 40% of electricity could be from wind and solar doing most of the heavy lifting by 2040, enabling a net zero global future. 
  • Today hydropower provides about 16% of the world’s electricity, generating power in all but two U.S. states. 80% to 90% of our electricity at the lab comes from the wonderful Columbia River.
  • ARC is working to clean up combustion so renewable biomass (domestic switch grass, for example) could cook food and heat homes when fossil fuels are no longer available.
  • Reading a book at night in a warm house is a wonderful thing. Somebody is playing the piano… Dinner was great.

Earth Day 2023: The Future Can Be Fun!

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(R. Crumb)

If renewable switch grass, for example, was burned cleanly enough biomass could join solar, wind, hydro, and thermal energy as sustainable energy replacements in the post fossil fuel era. ARC estimates that an emissions rate of 0.3 grams/hour of PM2.5 would protect air quality in cities and meet the Paris Agreements when replacing natural gas.

Not all that hard to do…

 “Earth is likely to cross a critical threshold for global warming within the next decade, and nations will need to make an immediate and drastic shift away from fossil fuels to prevent the planet from overheating dangerously beyond that level, according to a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

… It says that global average temperatures are estimated to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels sometime around ‘the first half of the 2030s,’ as humans continue to burn coal, oil and natural gas.

…Under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, virtually every nation agreed to ‘pursue efforts’ to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Beyond that point, scientists say, the impacts of catastrophic heat waves, flooding, drought, crop failures and species extinction become significantly harder for humanity to handle.” Brad Plumer reporting in the New York Times, 4/21/23

On the other hand, transitioning to renewability accomplishes an almost universal dream of humanity.

Biomass Pellets in the USA: Fuel Switching

Total Plants: 107Metric tons/year:11,188,200
The pellets are used for fuel.

Depending on the size of the home, winter heating with a pellet burning stove uses from 2 to 6 tons of wood pellets per year. If the average house burned 3 tons per year, 3,729,400 homes could be heated with pellets currently manufactured in the USA. There are 142,153,010 residences in the USA. biomassmagazine.com/plants/listplants/pellet/US/

Bill Gates has written that the climate crisis can be solved by developing least cost, renewable technologies to replace fossil fuels. (“How to Avoid a Climate Crisis”, 2021)     

How do fuel costs compare?

Fuel Oil #2       Cost per million BTU = $30.19

Electricity         Cost per million BTU = $35.17

Natural Gas      Cost per million BTU = $15.38

Wood Pellets   Cost per million BTU = $19.15

LPG/Propane   Cost per million BTU = $41.13

www.pelletheat.org/compare-fuel-costs

Fuel switching from natural gas to renewably harvested wood pellets or split logs or dried wood chips (only if they can be burned cleanly enough to meet the Paris Agreements) seems to include a relatively small Green Premium. Replacing LPG/Propane, electricity, and Fuel Oil #2 with wood pellets seems like a good deal. 

Chart comparing energy output of 1 acre of grain vs 1 acre woodlot

Ethanol or Direct Burning for Heating Applications?

The direct burning of biomass seems to be dramatically more efficient compared to ethanol for applications such as home heating, cooking, heating water, or drying clothes. It makes sense that not having to create alcohol from biomass would save energy. When the use of natural gas is decreased (due to climate change), burning biomass for heating seems like a fuel-efficient option that could reduce the extra burdens on electricity. 

One of my favorite reference books is “The Energy Primer” published in 1974. It has comprehensive review articles on solar, wind, water, and biomass energy. The following chart comes from a great article on biomass written by Richard Merrill. It shows that when renewable biomass is combusted, the efficiencies are much higher compared to making alcohol from biomass and then burning it.

The very clean burning of biomass allows efficient heating applications.

Chart comparing energy output of 1 acre of grain vs 1 acre woodlot
Smokestacks belch out smoke, spelling out CO2 in a blue sky. A Euro symbol floats to the right.

A Recent History of the Rocket Stove: 2022

Smokestacks belch out smoke, spelling out CO2 in a blue sky. A Euro symbol floats to the right.
Image by Petra Wessman via Flickr

How can smoke, extremely dangerous for health and climate change, be ignored in carbon credit equations? Carbon dioxide and methane are counted but not smoke. Carbon dioxide is reduced when heat transfer is improved resulting in less wood being burned. Wood doesn’t make appreciable amounts of methane. 

Because smoke is not counted to earn carbon credits, smoky stoves with good heat transfer efficiency make as much money as clean burning stoves even though the Black Carbon in smoke is something like 680 times worse than CO2 by weight for warming. Because smoke is not included in climate credit math, adding clean burning to biomass cook stoves usually has to be as inexpensive as possible.

We know that adding high pressure mixing to Rocket stoves dramatically reduces smoke. As of 2022, forced draft is required to achieve adequate amounts of mixing. Mixing requires high pressures that (so far) cannot be made with natural draft. We know how to improve the Rocket but are in the process of completing the transformation to clean burning.

Nice to know the solution!