Let’s visit a plant nursery in Pawling, New York, that has been using grass — made into pellets — to heat their large greenhouses. The pellets are burned in an unmodified rice-coal stove. For the sake of a video demo, we fired up the stove for the first time since it was used last winter.
Dr. Tom Reed and Dirk-Jan Rosse chat about making grass pellets for heating. Could this really be the new coal?
There is a lot of fallow farm land in our area — abandoned farms, land that has to be brush hogged for absentee owners, whatever. Yet left as “weeds” one to two acres can heat a house for a year when made into pellets!
A couple of days later we walked the field and Dirk-Jan noticed some particularly tall goldenrod. I have heard it said by some farmers that there is more money to be made from goldenrod than from corn! It could be. Harvesting goldenrod is a simple three step operation: cutting, windrowing and baling. No special equipment, no spraying, no fertilizer. Much less fuel and time is spent on this crop.
This is not a demonstration project, proof of concept, or experiment. No public or foundation funds have been awarded this project (or, for that matter, this website). It is the beginning of a new business, bootstrapping and paying for itself as it catches on.
Gasification is central to understanding the efforts to produce smokeless and safe stoves for cooking with biomass fuels as well as making biochar. In layman’s terms, it means using heat to drive off the components of biomass that are not carbon and heating them in an air rich environment so that they burn and leave the carbon behind. So you are literally burning smoke and generating lots of heat. A primary supply of heat to drive out the volatile materials of the wood as smoke and a secondary supply to ignite the smoke.
Dirk-Jan built a gasifier to evaluate the grass pellets he produces and to assess how much slag and ash they produce. It was kludged together with scrap parts he had lying around his shop and is certainly not a production model but it does illustrate how to burn smoke.
We have been taught to light fires from the bottom of the wood pile but in this video the fuel was lit by from the top while the hot air came from below. This gives the stove the name Top Lit Up Draft, TLUD.
When the fuel is lit from below it completely burns the fuel above it rather than just creating smoke. That leaves ash instead of the carbon in the form of charcoal, the desirable biochar. Pronounced “B-LUD”. The fuel is ignited from the bottom and up until a certain point generates a lot of smoke.
The TLUD has the advantage of producing biochar while it is being used as a cooking stove. TLUD has the advantage of producing biochar while it is being used as a cooking stove.
Here is a diagram to help with the terminology of the TLUD.
As I wanted to make a video that would illustrate how gasification actually burns “smoke” in order to produce heat, we ignited the fuel through a port at the bottom of the stove to generate lots of smoke and then lots of heat. If we had lit the fuel from the top, it would have been smokeless. This same stove works in two different ways: as a TLUD and as a BLUD. Pronounced “T-LUD”. The fuel is ignited from the top and is essentially smokeless.
The next demonstration produced charcoal with a retort made from a recycled Cornelius keg. I’ve taken the liberty of assuming that most people looking at this site would not be familiar with the Cornelius keg unless, of course you are part of the home brew beer fraternity. In the following video, Hugh explains what it is and how to convert one as an excellent and affordable retort.
Now let’s see it in action!
There will be more video about the Cornelius keg because Hugh gave me one to experiment with and I can hardly wait!
“More than half of the world’s population—three billion people—cook their food and heat their homes by burning coal and biomass, including wood, dung, and crop residues, in open fires or rudimentary stoves. Indoor burning of solid fuels releases dangerous particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and other toxic pollutants, and releases greenhouse gases into the air. The resulting indoor air pollution levels are 20 to 100 times greater than the World Health Organization’s (WHO) air quality guidelines allow. Unfortunately, the health risks and threats to the environment are on the rise: the International Energy Agency estimates that 200 million more people will use these fuels by 2030.
“WHO estimates that 1.5 million people die prematurely each year from exposure to indoor smoke from burning solid fuels. In fact, indoor air pollution from household energy is ranked fourth in the list of serious threats to health in less developing countries, after malnutrition, unsafe sex, and unsafe water. Women and children face the greatest risks. Breathing unsafe levels of smoke indoors more than doubles a child’s risk of serious respiratory infection and is associated with pregnancy problems, such as stillbirth and low-weight babies.” Partnership for Clean Indoor Air
I call them “Stovers”, a loose network of people who are experimenting on smokeless stoves that use very little fuel and ideally produce charcoal for use as biochar or for other heating.
A prominent pioneer in this field is Nat Mulcalhy of WorldStove. His explanation and demonstration of this great stove is far better than the video, but please bear with it… and don’t worry, there are english subtitles!
I would love to get my hands on one of his Lucia stoves. I just happen to think this would be a great catalyst to trigger conversations that I could video.
Here is a combination of grass-roots organization and appropriate technology which contributes to the local economy.
In this next example, solar stoves at a refugee camp for Darfur refugees.
We can see how the stoves are made in the local community.
There are many other examples of economic development and stove technology coming on this website. But they all adhere to the belief that we must cut down on the amount of fuels we use for cooking and heating.
Bear in mind:
Nationwide, the estimated 60 million barbecues held on the Fourth of July alone consume enough energy—in the form of charcoal, lighter fluid, gas, and electricity—to power 20,000 households for a year. That one day of fun, food, and celebration, says Tristram West, a research scientist with the U.S. Department of Energy, burns the equivalent of 2,300 acres of forest and releases 225,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. It also produces other air pollutants — including a few that might surprise you. Sierra Club