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Wood Gasification Boilers -- Are they 'too expensive,' or are they 'free'?

Post in 'The Boiler Room - Wood Boilers and Furnaces' started by cguida, Jan 10, 2009.

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  1. cguida

    cguida New Member

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    Are wood gasification boilers too expensive, or are they actually free?

    Or to phrase it another way, do 10 -15 thousand dollar gasification installations actualy make practical, economic sense?

    This might border on heresy, but none-the-less, lets explore. It might turn out that gasification boilers are not so expensive at all. Given their greater efficiency, maybe they turn out to be free after a few years. Further, 'expensive' is a relative term -- expensive compared to what? Either way -- expensive or free -- it would be interesting to hear from peole who know about this stuff -- dealers, plumbers, deadicated science-experimenters, data collectors -- do gasifiers actually 'pencil out?' Where do they make sense? And where are they clearly pretty extravagant?

    Dealers must know right off if the expense of a gasifier makes sense in any given circumstance. All you really need to know is the person's exisiting cost of heat, and the price of firewood. That, plus the Interest Rate. In the last analysis, what else is there? And lately I've begun to wonder about the interest rate. If gasifiers actaully save significant amounts of money, why don't dealers offer to finance the boilers, with payback coming from the fuel savings. If the savings are actually there, wouldn't that be a great way to sell lots of units. Maybe add some insurance to proctect all concerned. What do people consider a reasonable payback period, and what kinds of input numbers do you have to put in to achieve that magic number?

    If it were possible to go out an borrow the money, and pay it back via fuel savings over a reasonable period.... I'd be sorely tempted.

    As it stands, lets say I have a yearly fuel oil expense of $3200. Quality firewood around here costs 270/chord. What would be a realistic interest rate these days? How many years might it take to cover the cost of an hypothetical 12-15 thousand dollar installation? Could it really be done with no cash outlay on my part - i.e. barrow the whole thing and pay it back with the savings?

    Seems too good to be true. What do you think?

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  2. Steaming Pile

    Steaming Pile New Member

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    I think if I had to pay $270.00 a cord or buy wood period I'd still be burning oil. Or explore other options.....
  3. wolfkiller

    wolfkiller Burning Hunk

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    some might disagree but IMO the main reason to burn wood as a primary source of heat is so you control the fuel price and supply. If I was going to have fuel dilevered I would look into weather gas, oil, coal, pellets, electric, or corn was the best value in my area. I burn wood because it cost me about $20 and 5 hrs per cord.
  4. Wade

    Wade New Member

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    My home-built gasification boiler with 3000 gallons storage, cost me 2500$ and all my fuel is free from surrounding manufacturers (sawdust, scraps by the trailer load). People need to be more reliant on themselves and less on their cheque book!
  5. seige101

    seige101 Minister of Fire

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    In my opinion the people who are investing a significant amount of money into a gasification boiler are not going to pay for cord wood.
    They will either:
    1. have a large supply of wood on their land (free)
    2. scrounge the amount of needed wood. (free)
    3. buy triaxle loads of similar and process it them selves
    4 or a combination of the above.
  6. daleeper

    daleeper Minister of Fire

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    Wade, you haven't posted much info or photos of this boiler that I can find in your posts, unless I missed one. I for one would be interested in photos, more detailed design information, and how it is working for you. In particular, how you are burning sawdust in this boiler would be interesting to me. Rather than hijack this thread though, might want to start a new one, or update one of your first threads.
  7. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    Let's see....

    If you have a 1000 gallon per year oil habit and assume $3.50 going forward, that gives you your $3500 per year current cost. To be fair, let's also add the amortized cost of your oil boiler plus installation. I'll guess that's about $5000, so divided by a 20 year useful life, that gives us another $250 per year for a cost of $3750.

    In a gasifier, a cord of wood replaces at least 150 gallons of oil. That works out to about 6.5 cords per year in this example. At the extremely high rate of $270 per cord, that's $1755 per year for wood. Amortizing the $10,000 cost of the boiler over its 20 year life adds $500 per year for a total of $2255 annual cost.

    Over 20 years, the oil will cost you $75,000. The gasifier will cost you $45,000.

    For fun, let's also consider a non-gasifier. Assume $4000 less installed cost and 40% more wood consumption. In your case, the 20 year cost for the non-gasifier would be about $55,000.

    There are a number of ways to look at this, but almost any reasonable scenario shows a huge advantage for the gasifier. If wood is very inexpensive, then the gasifier doesn't have as much financial advantage over other woodburning appliances.

    I haven't looked at the interest rate or inflation, but I expect that as an investment it's a bunch better than the stock market....
  8. sweetheat

    sweetheat Member

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    seems to good to be true? IMO it will payback very quick. we all know oil will go up, soon. wood is available and to some it's free. I've never burned any oil, but I listen to my mom and dad complain about the cost of oil. They are about to make the switch to wood even at 85 years. They can see the savings. smee if I were you I'd pick up your telephone today and call a gasification manf. and buy some $270 a cord hardwood. its almost as easy as oil in a tank dribbling into you heater, just more efficient and cleaner. I just purchased for 3 years ahead at $200. in eastern Maine! :) sweetheat
  9. Tarmsolo60

    Tarmsolo60 Feeling the Heat

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    I think 1 cord of good hardwood is equal to about 150 gallons of oil.

    If the wood comes in less than the oil, there is your available money for your payment per cord used.

    I pay $80 cord log length delivered, 150 gallons of oil at $3.00 is $450

    every cord I burn when oil is $3.00 saves me $370

    every cord I burned when oil was $2.00 saved me $220

    I think a cheap wood supply is the key, I know there are some costs and labor involved with processing. The labor doesn't bother me, the other costs maybe $2k equipment lifetime can be tacked on the boiler cost to figure payback time.

    I have 16 acres of mostly hardwood I live on but as long as I can buy log length for a cheap price delivered I'll keep doing it.

    So, burning 6 cords when oil is $3.00 would save me $2200 (pretty quick payback in my opinion)

    Oil would have to get pretty cheap and stay there to make it worth it for me not to gasify.

    Thats my off the cuff calculation, someone please advise me if I'm mistaken.
  10. muncybob

    muncybob Minister of Fire

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    I think all the above calculations are on the right track...depending on your own circumstances. I made a spreadsheet to compare the long term costs of several scenarios for me...1. install new better efficient oil boiler 2. Install an OWB 3. Install indoor or outdoor non gasser 4. install indoor or outdoor gasser...all of which would have some sort of indirect hot water and outdoor temp control and most likely heat storage at some point(I was using 500 gal propane tank in my costs). All costs were entered using quotes provided to me by professional installs. No matter how you slice it, given enough time the gasser always comes out ahead. I built in inflation factors and apr% if I have to bowrrow any or all of the funds. The unknown variable besides future cost of fuel(be it it oil or wood) is just how long and maintenance free any boiler will be. I built in an assumption of relatively little repair costs and average "cost free repair" life of 15 years. After playing around with several "what ifs" in my spreadsheet I always came back to the conclusion a gasser will pay for itself in well under 10 years. Since I plan to still be living here in 10+ years it's a no brainer to me! I truly am looking forward to this coming spring/summer more so than any other year as that's when we'll be doing the install. I only hope oil costs stay down until then!
  11. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    I think it's well worth noting that the gasifier comes out ahead even if you add in other necessary expenses such as $20,000 for a nice 4wd diesel tractor with bucket and a set of nice chainsaws with all the accessories ;-)
  12. ken999

    ken999 New Member

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    I'm still struggling with going gasser or non-gasser for an OWB.

    I've got 22 acres of wood here at the house. I'll be burning dry wood in either to combat the smoke.

    With the gasser, I will not have to split as fine meaning alot less maul time for me. The standard OWB will take bigger chunks.

    Gassers usually require indoor water storage for maximum BTU extraction adding to the already higher cost (+- $2000).
  13. DaveBP

    DaveBP Minister of Fire

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    I work with a number of guys who think I'm crazy to buy a gassifier that cost less than the Harleys they ride to work on the 40 to 50 good weather days in the summer.
  14. lawandorder

    lawandorder Member

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    My Story-

    1000-1200 gals of fuel oil per year even at $3 gal (neighbors locked in at 4.59 this year) means 3K-4k per year in fuel oil. Used home equity loan for Tarm Solo 40 w/storage put into boiler room attached to 2 car garage all piped underground to the house. Put in-floor heat in garage as well. Assuming oil stays in the 3$ range (which I dont think will happen) I will have a return in 5 yrs. I get my wood at $50 face cord delivered. I order half and cut the rest myself by scrounging our property and cutting enough for the year ahead. HAvent burned any oil since first week of October and I still have 300 gals in tanks. 3200 sg ft house kept at 70-72 and a warm garage. For me it was a quick decision. Now I am refinancing mortgage after my wife locked in at 4.5%. Would be happier if I had good seasoned wood this winter but its getting better. right now its -3 degrees with house at 70 and not a drop of oil burned. For me it worked out better than my "investments" and stocks for retirment which have tanked.
  15. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    It also pays to consider the value of a clean-burning appliance. You might justify going with a conventional boiler or OWB based on sticker price alone , but if you alienate your neighbors with the smoke or find yourself on the wrong side of a new ordinance or other legislation, what have you really saved?

    As to wood vs. oil or gas--as noted above, it's all about control.
  16. ken999

    ken999 New Member

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    As it stands, the only ordinance we have is a permit is required to burn from May to Sep. I can't see my municipality banning any existing boilers, only restricting new installs.

    I am worried about offending neighbors, hence my desire to burn dry wood only. My current PE insert has not drawn any complaints to date.
  17. stee6043

    stee6043 Minister of Fire

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    Assuming cost were a non-issue the two biggest considerations I had were the amount of smoke produced and amount of wood required. I have close neighbors and an HOA to deal with. I don't want to stack 10 cord of wood behind my house. 4-5 stacked is much better and much less "noticeable". I also wanted the cleanest burn possible so as to keep neighbors from even knowing I'm burning.

    I took out a loan to purchase my EKO and the payback on my system will be 5 years assuming natural gas prices stay the same for the next 5 years. If natural gas prices go up, payback goes down....my wood is free....and let's not forget this is definitely a hobby. How many hobbies actual pay you back eventually?
  18. Dave T

    Dave T New Member

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    If all us wood burners turned to fossil fuels it would trickle down big time, not just heat, not just hot water, remember SUPPLY & DEMAND more to fill your car,more to supply electric to your house, more to put products on the shelves in stores,and just like we are seeing right now that leads to job losses and instability all the way around..When we burn wood we promote growth (which is very importand right now) by keeping all prices except the price of wood down..Keep in mind when fuel prices jumped up to over 4.00 a gallon many people rushed out to buy wood burning appliances without looking at the work involved burning wood,that is going to lead to wood burning units to come up for sale used and much cheaper than new..I bought my used EKO 60 standard, installed it myself(with some help from my friends on this site and family) and installed a 35' tall triple wall chimney,for 8,000 dollars with 1,000 dollars more I'll have storage as well..As said above rely on yourself not your wallet when at all possible..Dave
  19. ken999

    ken999 New Member

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  20. stee6043

    stee6043 Minister of Fire

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    Sorry...Home Owners Association....I have a pretty fair association but there are not many lumberjacks on my street that would appreciate what we do. In fact, out of 72 or so homes I have only the second "real" chimney. Everyone else has two or three direct vented gas longs in their houses....
  21. Grover59

    Grover59 Member

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    I buy my wood all cut and split and I was still looking at saving 2 grand a year, I would rather invest that into a wood boiler then give it to the oil man.

    Steve
  22. hoth2oguy

    hoth2oguy New Member

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    we talk to a lot of people who are interested in possibly buying a boiler from us. Certainly the primary motivation for most of them is reducing energy costs, however, energy independence (personal and national) and reducing their impact on the environment are also very strong motivations too. These are extremely valuable features of a wood boiler even if it is difficult to figure them into a payback scenario. Certainly the payback of a wood or pellet boiler system - even if professionally installed and fuel purchased at $270.00 a cord - has a much faster payback than a $30 - $40k PV array and there are a ton of those going in. I am a big fan of solar by the way, just using that as a way to illustrate that purchase decisions are not made on payback only.
  23. cguida

    cguida New Member

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    Hello LawandOrder

    More precious than jewels ... a man with up-to-date real-dollar figures, and an interest rate(!). There's only one thing missing -- how much did the Tarm and installation cost? If I could actually get money at 4.5 percent and duplicate your results and get a 5 year pay-back period, I'd be very sorely tempted.

    But the first step is to get realistic figures into a spreadsheet and see how it all fits together. Excuse me a minute while I find the posts people who have made spreadsheets on this question....

    Meanwhile thanks for posting your experience. A five-year payback is pretty close to Free! Send us some more details!
  24. 603doug

    603doug Member

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    No one has posted the best advantage, cutting, yarding wood out, splitting keeps you young. All my friends who burn oil not only pay what ever opec and the speculators decided they have memberships at the local exercise parlors :)
  25. cguida

    cguida New Member

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    Hello Muncybob,

    From the sound of it, your spreadsheet looks to be unusually complete and comprehensive. Would you post it as an attachment that we could download and experiment with -- maybe enter in our own numbers and see where we stand on the 'Payback Continuum'?

    If there are other spreadsheets out there, by all means put them up where we can take a peek. Everybody's individual circumstances are different, so it is unlikely that one (spreadsheet) size will fit all. But by comparing approaches, we might be able to build a realistic spreadsheet that would be useful in a wide variety of circumstances.

    Some thoughts about spreadsheet inputs --

    First, about wood. For spreadsheet purposes, there is no such thing as free wood. I know because I have cut plenty of it. Mostly I've enjoyed it. But the ture cost of free wood includes your time and labor, your saw, your tractor, your winch, your truck, taxes and or stumpage, maybe your ponies and their gear and winter feed, and certainly your chiropractic bill. All told, the cost of free wood, (or long wood that you work up yourself) is the price in your area for the same wood cut, split, and dumped in your dooryard -- at least for spreadsheet purposes.

    [More about wood prices around here: $270/cord is pretty steep (Out-blanking-rageous!). I just happened to run into a big firewood dealer few minutes ago. He said the reason was first the high price that competing mills were paying in the first half of 2008; and sheer fear of $4.50 heating oil. I don't see how the price of firewood can stay that high for long -- especially with the Mill Price and the heating oil price both dropping fast. But meanwhile commercial firewood prices around here are "sticky," probably due to very sparce population and lack of competition among the few commercial sellers.]

    Second, somebody pointed out a cost that we seldom factor in -- a place to store wood. This applies to all wood no matter how you burn it, but it applies particularly to gasser wood, since gasifiers are kind of fussy about spicies, size, shape, and moisture content.

    Third, I appreciate No Fossil's post(s) on this subject. In this forum he is the premier Science Project-er, and I always learn stuff from him. But when it comes to deciding weather or not to go into debt for a gasifier, it doesn't seem right to count the capital cost of the existing heating system. Unless you are planning new construction, the existing heating system is already there -- paid for. The only thing that matters is fuel cost (and maybe some maintenance).

    Ideally, a spreadsheet might have some sliders on it whereby you could dial up your existing fuel cost; firewood cost; purchase-and-installation cost; Interest cost; new fuel cost -- and out would come your own customized years-to-payback number.

    I can see I am going to have to study up on the concept of amortization. Just comparing 20 years of capital and operationg expenses between the two systems doesn't tell you when the magic payback point happens. It seems to neglect the element of time (and interest). Then again, it could be that I just don't understand the concepts very well.

    Some additional semi-random thoughts --

    "Optimism is the state of mind that considers Matrimony cheaper than Engagement." I'd like to believe in a 5-year payback. I'd just like to see it all spread out in detail.

    The 8 most expensive words in the English language have to be: "This thing is going to save you money!" On the other hand -- maybe it will save you money. And besides -- life without at least one Science Project is not worth living! We need more real-life data on gasifier initial costs -- purchase; delivery; installation. Does 10 thousand sound too low? Does 20 thousand sound too high? Do I hear 15 thousand, as a fair first approximation guess?
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