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ARTICLES - Pellet - Corn as a Home Heating Fuel

Burning Shelled Corn as a Home Heating Fuel

Original article by:
Dennis Buffington
Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Penn State University

Burning shelled corn as a fuel can be a feasible way of dealing with the high prices of more conventional fuels such as fuel oil, propane, natural gas, coal, and firewood. Utilizing corn as a fuel does not compete with the food supply needed for nourishment throughout the world. While it is recognized that malnutrition is a serious global problem, the world is not experiencing a food production problem. Instead the world faces political challenges associated with providing infrastructure systems for food distribution and storage.

Contemporary agricultural systems can produce sufficient quality and quantity of food for the world’s population, with additional resources available so that agricultural products can be used as fuel, pharmaceuticals, and chemical feedstocks. Shelled corn is a fuel that can be produced within 180 days, compared to the millennia needed to produce fossil fuels.

Energy Content of shelled Corn

The actual BTU’s in shelled corn are comparable to those in wood, that being about 8,000 BTU per Lb. However, dried corn contains more moisture than wood pellets, and the BTU content must be adjusted to allow for this water content. The result is that an energy content of approx. 7,000 BTU per lb should be used in your starting calculations.

Comparing Corn to other Fuels

You can use the handy comparison calculator at:
http://www.hearth.com/econtent/index.php/articles/fuel_cost_comparison_calculator/
to compare the costs of common fuels. Notice that Pellets and Corn are listed in the same calculation as the energy content and weights are similar.

Shopping for a Corn Stove

SHOPPING FOR A CORN-BURNING STOVE OR BOILER?—QUESTIONS TO ASK

As you consider the purchase of a corn-burning stove or boiler, you will undoubtedly have many questions. Below you will find questions that are designed to help you gather the necessary information for making an informed decision. The answers to these questions may vary from model to model, and are also dependent on personal preferences and the anticipated location and function of the stove. However, satisfactory answers to all questions should be received from the dealer before committing to a purchase.

  1. Does the corn-burning stove have UL or CSA certification on the testing label?

  2. Does the operator’s manual for the stove state that 100% shelled corn can be burned or must the corn be mixed with wood pellets for good combustion?

  3. Are there any other fuels that can be burned in the corn-burning stove? If so, what adjustments or stove modifications are required to burn some other fuel?

  4. How often will the supply hopper need to be filled when the stove is burning at full capacity?

  5. What are the maintenance requirements of the corn-burning stove compared to other stoves? How often do clinkers need to be knocked loose and removed? Must an additive (such as oyster shells) be burned along with the corn to ease the cleaning requirements?

  6. Are sugars from burning corn likely to accumulate in the combustion chamber? If so, what is the recommended way to remove the sugars?

  7. Where can shelled corn be purchased in this area? Be sure to have a plan for storing the shelled corn you purchase for the heating season and perhaps beyond. (See the link on the web site to “Storage Requirements of Shelled Corn.”)

  8. What is the recommended moisture content for the shelled corn in order to get good fuel combustion?

  9. What type of exhaust ventilation system must be provided for the corn-burning stove? What are the local code requirements and insurance requirements for handling the combustion exhaust?

  10. What size corn-burning stove is needed for the intended application? Is the house layout appropriate for the convective movement of the heated air throughout the whole house? You need to decide if the stove is intended to be the primary heat source for the building or if it is intended to serve as a supplementary or back-up source.

  11. Can the corn-burning stove be connected with an existing hot water or hot air distribution system?

  12. How much experience does the dealer have with installing and servicing corn-burning stoves and boilers?

  13. Which stove models are intended for residential applications and which models are for commercial and industrial applications?

  14. What warranty comes with the stove? Under what conditions will the warranty be voided?

Now that your are armed with the proper information to consider purchase of a corn burning appliance, see our other Corn article which details buying and storing corn fuel, as well as ash disposal.


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