Alternative fuels, pro/con

Snowy Rivers Posted By Snowy Rivers, May 24, 2013 at 4:11 PM

  1. Snowy Rivers

    Snowy Rivers
    Minister of Fire

    Feb 7, 2010
    NW Oregon
    Just wanted to touch on the use of fuels other than pellets in pellet stoves.

    There are many possibilities available as far as fuels go, with BIOMASS being a biggy.
    Nut shells, various pits,corn, pelletized grass, waste paper and no doubt other materials as well.

    The tried and true pellets come in hard and soft woods and most pellets are tested for their reliability.

    Using alternative fuels can be very rewarding as far as cost savings, but will in many instances require the stove be adjusted to run the product that you are trying to burn.

    Many stove manufactures will state quite openly that their stove/s will or will not burn alternative fuels.
    Many mfg have corn pots etc available as an option.

    To burn the various pelletized biomass fuels can be as simple as an air adjustment or may require other modification.

    The use of alternative fuels can also have effects on the venting system that may require a change in the vent due to the corrosive nature of the residues left after combustion.

    Most grass pellets are fine and cause no issues with the venting.

    Most stoves will have some trim adjustments that will allow the feed rate to be tweeked some, allowing the various alternatives to be fed with ease.

    We burn and have burned hazelnut shells for over 20 years with zero issues.

    The shells are crushed up some and are the size of a normal small fingernail, and feed quite well with only an occasional CRUNCH as the auger snaps a piece of shell as it passes the edge of the auger tube.

    The feed rate settings had to be fiddled with to find the optimal setting.

    With pellets, the fuel is highly compressed and the burn rate is what the stoves are built to run these with the stove settings giving optimal heating from low to high.

    With alternatives such as the shells, the burn rate differs greatly from pellets, and is more like what you see in a wood stove when burning kindling as opposed to larger wood pieces.

    We have to limit the feed rate to the 1 or no more than the 2 setting to avoid too large of a fire.

    The faster burn rate is not an issue, it just requires managing the settings and such to obtain a fiire that is not too large or one that goes out.

    The shells will burn out and the fire nearly die between feed cycles if not for some adjustment of the trim screw on the board.

    This same scenario would likely apply to pits, corn, grass pellets, leaf pellets and such.

    Our use of alternatives makes the pellet stove very affordable.

    The Shells do require a storage and hauling arrangement as the shells are only available in bulk.

    Using alternatives can be very rewarding but requires some careful planning and research prior to buying a stove.

    Some makes and models will not operate with the alternative fuels, but many will do so happily.

    Many dealers will be able to tell the prospective buyer of which models will or will not run the alternative fuels.

    Most bottom feeder stoves will do so without a problem, as will many top feeders, but the fact that some are fussy, makes it imperative to ask, if you are wanting to do this.

    We have two Whitfields and both happily munch up shells.

    The Quadrafire 1000 will not feed the shells, so we keep a small stack of pellets for it.

    I hope this info is useful to others.

  2. StihlHead


    What is the cost of hazelnut (AKA: filbert) shells though? Every time I go over to the west side of the W. Valley they are pretty expensive, even in bulk. They are used in horticulture for growing orchids in, as well as for ground mulch and potting mediums. Also they are really only available in a small local region in the northern Willamette Valley in Oregon, and there is not a huge amount of shells, as compared to wood byproducts around here. So the potential for wider use in stoves is limited. They would also have to be pettetized or somehow otherwise standardized (and tested and certified) to work in wood pellet stoves.

    Local cost of premium softwood pellets to compare to: $200 a ton for low ash high output Doug fir, a byproduct of regional milling lumber and plywood. Wood pellets are a huge industry here, and growing rapidly. Shipped back east they wind up being $300 a ton (3 cents a ton/mile is the cost shipping by rail). That is the benchmark price to beat in order to compete.
  3. Snowy Rivers

    Snowy Rivers
    Minister of Fire

    Feb 7, 2010
    NW Oregon
    About 2 cents a pound where I buy

    I have been running the shells for over 20 years now in several different stoves.

    Certification is not going to happen due to the low availability.

    The entire concept is to find a nitch market and make it save you money.

    I heat a 2400 ft house for less than $200 for an entire season.

    If I had to pay $200+ a ton for fuel, it would really hurt.

    We used to do it, but retirement takes its toll financially.
  4. Don2222

    Minister of Fire

    Feb 1, 2010
    Salem NH
    Hi Snowy

    You are very fortunate to get the hazelnut shells nearby. Cost of alternative fuels is a huge factor. I had a stove with a burn pot agitator which really helps with those sticky ashes like corn. Here in the North East, corn is $12 for a 50 lb bag! So wood pellets at $4.00 for a 40 lb a bag is king!

    I hope that people get into alternative fuels everywhere more seriously because I am sure that with the pellet stove technology we can get there!
    We do have alot of acorns and leaves for free around here in the fall. Processing them for a pellet stove can most certainly be done!

    So maybe some day in this area we will have more economical choices like you do!

    Thanks for the encouragement!

  5. StihlHead


    Hmmm.... $40 a ton. Not bad. Though getting any shells here would cost me at least $50 a ton in gas money. I get wood for 'free' which winds up costing an average of $40 a cord, or $26 a ton on average (for resulting dry Doug fir).
  6. Snowy Rivers

    Snowy Rivers
    Minister of Fire

    Feb 7, 2010
    NW Oregon
    I am situated well, as far as getting the shells.

    It takes 30 minutes round trip to go get shells.

    The plant is 5 miles away.

    I just load the dumpster on the trailer, tie it down and zoop, off to the nut plant.

    Get a light weight, then head down to the hopper, back under, they open the drop gate and in about 30 seconds the 3 yard dumpster is full :)
    Head up to the scale, get weighed, pay the gal in the scale shack and off up home.

    The work starts then, as we have to dip the stuff out of the dumpster and fill all the barrels.

    Its not hard, and for the small cost, its well worth the effort.

    Back in my dump trucking days it was far easier for sure, just back the rig under, fill the truck and then use the ditch gate on the rear to fill the barrels.

    Life is good.


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