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:

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.
  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.

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.
  • 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.
(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.

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.

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

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

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.
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!

The Field Informs the Lab

In Part 1, we gave examples of how field studies can provide unpleasantly surprising results. Rocket stoves were designed to make a little less smoke and use substantially less fuel. So when the rocket stove was field tested by USAID the inventor, Dr. Larry Winiarski, was not surprised that the stove still made smoke. But the ARC team was surprised that it was not a real improvement over the open fire.

In 2011 the goals for cookstoves published by the Department of Energy asked that a stove use 50% less fuel and make 90% less PM2.5 to protect health when used indoors. Now in 2022 stoves are also supposed to address climate change, which means emitting less PM2.5 and hopefully making less than 8% black carbon. Field tests show that we need to make more improvements to meet these specific goals.

How are these reductions achieved in the lab?

  1. Use a chimney to reduce in-home concentrations of CO and PM2.5.
  2. In lab tests, approximately 850°C gases need to flow in tight channel gaps around the pot(s) to reduce the fuel used to cook by about 50%.
  3. Molecular mixing at 850°C (0.2 second residence time) can achieve something like a 90% reduction of PM2.5 (requires forced draft in a Rocket stove).
  4. This mixing reduces greenhouse gas emissions by about the same amount.

Natural-draft and forced-draft TLUD stoves burning pellets and forced draft Jet-Flame stoves burning dry sticks without bark get close to these reductions in the lab. Unfortunately, they frequently do not yet meet these goals in the field.

The lab has to move into the field to learn if current technology can accomplish modern goals. Let’s go!

Next week in Part 3: sometimes field tests show success.

Balthazar Schulte, Lyttleton Harbor, New Zealand

I recently read a Time article that pointed out that shipping accounts for 2.2% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. To put it in perspective the writer, Aryn Baker, suggests that if shipping was a country, it would be the sixth largest CO2 emitter in the world, on par with Germany.

In her reporting from last year’s COP26 (UN Climate Change Conference), she writes:

 “It doesn’t matter if we want iPhones that come from China, steaks from Brazil or to tow an iceberg to Glasgow; we all depend fundamentally on international shipping for everything that we do,” says Johannah Christensen, head of the Global Maritime Forum.

“This just underscores the importance of decarbonizing shipping.”

Some ferryboats have transitioned to battery power. For the 60,000 ocean going cargo ships transporting global goods, the most promising technology, says Christensen, is either hydrogen or synthetic fuels.

Making these fuels available sustains the globalization the world depends on for just about everything. In The Age of Aquarius, renewable fuels keep ships rolling on the high seas as we transition from grey to green. Check it out!