pellets

lamplightlamplight Solar Expert Posts: 368 ✭✭✭✭✭✭
I know some of you must be using pellet stoves. we heated exclusively with pellets last yr.

everyone around here is having supply problems, im wondering whats going on elsewhere in the country?

i ended up buying a bunch of biobricks which are like big wood pellets made of sawdust scrap that you can burn like a log in your fireplace. i have some wood too so we're all set for the moment but i would like to get some pellets too.

just wondering if this supply problem is widespread, its been like this occasionally for the last few yrs i would think some smart businessperson would jump on this.

Comments

  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 31,072 admin
    Re: pellets

    From an article:
    Housing Slowdown Leads To Sawdust Shortage: Are Pellet Stoves and Cellulosic Ethanol Unsustainable Delusions?

    Wall Street Journal documents sawdust price shock for us. Who knew there were so many North American supply chains depending on a byproduct of the US housing boom?
    The price of sawdust has soared since 2006, up from about $25 a ton to more than $100 in some markets. Blame the housing slump: Fewer new homes mean fewer trees cut for use in construction, which leads to less sawdust and other wood waste, driving up the price.
    Threatened by the higher costs are such saw dust uses as horse bedding, bedding for pets of all kinds, wine making, chicken producing, composting toilets, oil drilling, dairying, and uh ohhhh...
    The sawdust shortage has also made life hard for Mr. Johnson of Montana. His company's trendiest business is compressed sawdust pellets, a popular fuel used in special stoves that produce lots of heat but little ash. The pellets, made of blended bits of cedar, lodgepole pine and Douglas fir, require dry fiber, without impurities. Tree bark won't do, only sawdust.
    Apparently things are so bad in the sawdust market that recycled Christmas trees are being "dusted" and scavengers are returning to the forest to grind up piles of logging slash. You can guess the rest...
    Sounds like this is going to be a long term problem.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • BrockBrock Solar Expert Posts: 633 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: pellets

    Ya, same thing around here. I had an idea this was going to happen when we were looking at stoves. At first pellets were cheap because they were a waste product. Now the demand has exceeded the waste so the price has doubled since 2 years ago and basically you have to order them and get them when they come in, or pay 1.5 times that to get them right away in smaller quantities from someone who has them in stock. I know a local place opened last year that is taking old shipping pallets and turning them in to pellets, they had a pretty good price, but I went for regular wood. My father in law was looking at them because he was getting tired of moving wood and wanted the “automation” of pellets, when he priced it out it was about 10% cheaper then natural gas, but with a lot more work.
    3kw solar PV, 8 L16's, xw 5548, Honda eu2000i, iota DLS-54-13, Leaf EV, 4 ton horizontal geothermal, grid tied - Green Bay, WI
  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: pellets

    i guess there is no substitute for cutting, drying, and burning wood with your own labor as much of a pain as it is.
  • icarusicarus Solar Expert Posts: 5,400 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: pellets

    When I was building custom homes, this question came up quite often. I advised client to look at the whole picture, and try to anticipate the future as best your crystal ball will allow.

    One considerable downside to pellet stoves is that the require 24/7 ac power, so that let them out for the clients that wanted "emergency" heat. (BTW that is also a problem for most of the newest generation gas/lp space and water heaters, like Rinnai/Takagi/Paloma etc)

    It seems to me that you should calculate the cost per btu IN THE ROOM, remembering that there are efficiency tradeoffs with most technology, as well as crystal ball guesses about the future cost.

    The conclusion that most of my clients came to (over the years) was to use gas/lp for the major heat, using the most efficient furnace/space heat they could, then installing a freestanding, standing pilot gaslog "wood" fireplace or stove that would serve as "emergency" heat.

    That said, if you are worried about your carbon footprint from your heat source and are leaning toward wood, consider spending more money on extra insulation.

    Finally, everything else being moot if you have a source of free or inexpensive cordwood, and don't mind the work involved. The reality in most cases is that if you have to buy wood it is cheaper to buy gas net/net. Also if you have a local, ready, secure supply of wood waste pellets then that equation can change.

    For my money, (I heat with wood since it is over abundant!) but if I had to do a system now, it would be no contest,,, I would use Rinnai space heaters in multiple area of a house. Very efficient (each unit) but with multiple units zone heating is VERY efficient, with little parasitic losses. Available in both LP and Natural gas.

    Tony
  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: pellets

    why the Rinnai space heaters over wood in a wood stove or fireplace? i would think when push comes to shove in an emergency that one would be able to find some wood moreso than propane with lng not always available to remote areas, not to mention pricey. i still say if you can go cut it and age it it is far better than most other things. say your saw breaks down. so what, you are doing this ahead of time most of the time and hand saws do exist in an emergency as do splitters and such. a small propane heater as a backup couldn't hurt if the emergency involves your own unexpected health problems, but getting more propane on sometimes impassable roads isn't reliable or cheap. all circumstances do vary though.
  • icarusicarus Solar Expert Posts: 5,400 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: pellets

    Neil,,
    I'm not talking emergency heat, but normal everyday household heat.

    My point is, if you don't have a supply of wood, or the inclination to cut, split stack, season and store it I think the Rinnai wins hands down over other heating systems (non solar).

    All central heating systems require power to run, and all central systems have parasitic energy costs. (fans, pumps etc.) In addition, most central systems have some losses, (duct loss for example). Zone heating with forced air leads to problems with additional duct loss from a closed duct, unbalance of air when many registers are closed. Zone heating with hydronic is easy to do, but if you want to heat a space quickly, a Rinnai will do it much faster than hydronic. For example, you can keep the room at any temp above freezing overnight, program the Rinnai to turn on 15 minutes before you get up, and it quickly heats the room to that temp.

    Rinnais are not cheap to buy, but they are very reliable and with a little care last decades. They also have a very small draw,, something like 55 watts full bore. The draw would be somewhat less as the fan speed and burner rate drops, so even a small ups or certainly a small generator will run one easily.

    As for wood, a good epa rated stove, seasoned, dry wood can't be beat, but a fire place doesn't even factor into any equation even in an emergency IMHO.

    Tony

    PS Only wimps use splitters! Real men split their wood when it is -30!, axe, maul and wedge!
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 31,072 admin
    Re: pellets

    Finding seasoned wood in an emergency probably is not possible in major metropolitan areas...

    Interesting (to me) on the Rhinnai's... I like the idea of using them instead of boilers--and for larger homes, zoning makes a lot of sense (I "zoned" my old home with a plastic sheet hanging from an adjustable shower currtain rod in our hallway--keep only the bedrooms warm in the winter with our gas wall heater... Can't really do that with central heat).

    In our area (SF Bay Area)--they are now going to issue warnings, and up to $1,000 fines, for those burning wood in the winter unless the home has no other source of heat (gas, electric?) when we have temperature inversions which trap pollution (~15-20 days per year based on current rules).

    Even today, when so little wood is used for heat--it is estimated that upwards of 1/3 of fine particulate pollution in the SF Bay Area is from wood burning homes... Not an insignificant amount of pollution.

    I have mixed feelings about this regulation of wood burning... But, I have seen a marked improvement in air quality in our area over the last 4 decades... Difficult to argue with success.

    In the end, I agree with Tony/Icarus that insulation (and for me, double pane vinyl windows) are really helpful in reducing energy usage required for space heating/cooling (in our area, older homes still don't have any insulation, or only attic insulation).

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • icarusicarus Solar Expert Posts: 5,400 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: pellets

    The use of EPA rated stoves, using good seasoned and dry wood cuts down on emissions by over 90%. I know that in the Seattle area burn bans can be in effect in the winter quite often due to inversions, but EPA stoves are exempt.


    It should also be noted that most people (in my experience) have no idea how to burn a wood stove cleanly and efficiently. With a new certified stove, once it is properly warmed up, the only thing visible from the flue should be heat waves. If you see visible smoke you are burning too slowly or burning wet/green wood. The old fashioned way of stoking the fire and then choking it down to a smolder is terribly polluting, as well as a very inefficient way to burn.

    I have no problem with clean air regs, as they benefit the many, AND they are not that hard to comply with,,, not unlike the advances made in auto exhaust in the last decades.

    Tony
  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: pellets

    i agree with you guys that too many burning wood at the wrong time is problematic. as far as finding wood, i am about 1 mile from the city of pittsburgh borderline and i can find plenty of wood even within 300 yards of my place. if i go to the city line, there's a park there in the city with more wood than i could use in my lifetime free for the picking(aged to boot). i wish i had a good wood burner.
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: pellets

    Pellets supply is probably a North America wide problem. Was on the news here a couple of weeks ago in Nova Scotia, that pellet stoves had been flying out the doors of big retailers, now they have huge back-orders for the pellets and the supply does not look promising at all for this winter. Someone has put the horse before the cart with regard to heating with pellets. The shortage has been going on for a few years and is rapidly getting worse.
    By the way, all evening, every house on my road except mine is in darkness, other than a candle or two. At times like this, even using this computer, gotta love solar :)
  • lamplightlamplight Solar Expert Posts: 368 ✭✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: pellets

    I'm really hoping the supply can pickup, i dont see how this can NOT be sustainable contrary to comments, wood waste is in everywhere its not just from home building. in fact it could be generated from sustainably grown species/plants like switchgrss pellets which i was reading about. ive been using these in my woodstove as that all i could get this yr. so far. : about $500 for 2 "tons", each ton is the equiv of a cord about. we heated the whole house the last 2 yrs on pellets and only used about 2.5 tons each winter @ $260 a ton (which was a high price!) contrast that to my friends oil heat that was $2600 for the winter. the pellets are the best way to heat all around in terms of environment, ease of use and (until recently ) cost. the pellets/biobricks burn cleaner than wood, and the pellet stove only uses about 30-50 watts (and theres only ONE), which is easily handled by a small sine wave ups and can run on my little 500w solar array for backup power when its sunny enough.

    in the meantime i do have a high efficiency lopi wood stove , low E argon filled double pane windows AND new inside window inserts which create another air barrier. unfortunately our wood stove is a small unit (lopi answer) so in order to get an almost all night burn i have to damp it down which makes more particulate pollution.
  • BrockBrock Solar Expert Posts: 633 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: pellets

    I agree that it could be and hopefully will be an easy way to transport energy. And as you said it can be made from all sorts of waste material as well as fast growing plants that otherwise were not very useful on their own. I read somewhere that they were even making pellets from wheat that was usually discarded back on to the field. The big catch is it cost a bit more because you sort of have to go out of your way to obtain it vs sawdust / scrap wood that is very plentiful at saw mills.

    Again a place out here just started up that uses old pallets or other discarded wood. They even offer to pick it up. I noticed them on construction sites with dumpster like bins that are marked clean wood waste only. Then again I see construction workers backing up to those dumpsters and filling up their pickups, I am guessing for wood burning stoves and such. Either way at least it isn’t going in to a landfill.
    3kw solar PV, 8 L16's, xw 5548, Honda eu2000i, iota DLS-54-13, Leaf EV, 4 ton horizontal geothermal, grid tied - Green Bay, WI
  • icarusicarus Solar Expert Posts: 5,400 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: pellets
    lamplight wrote: »
    I'm really hoping the supply can pickup, i dont see how this can NOT be sustainable contrary to comments, wood waste is in everywhere its not just from home building. in fact it could be generated from sustainably grown species/plants like switchgrss pellets which i was reading about. ive been using these in my woodstove as that all i could get this yr. so far. : about $500 for 2 "tons", each ton is the equiv of a cord about. we heated the whole house the last 2 yrs on pellets and only used about 2.5 tons each winter @ $260 a ton (which was a high price!) contrast that to my friends oil heat that was $2600 for the winter. the pellets are the best way to heat all around in terms of environment, ease of use and (until recently ) cost. the pellets/biobricks burn cleaner than wood, and the pellet stove only uses about 30-50 watts (and theres only ONE), which is easily handled by a small sine wave ups and can run on my little 500w solar array for backup power when its sunny enough.

    in the meantime i do have a high efficiency lopi wood stove , low E argon filled double pane windows AND new inside window inserts which create another air barrier. unfortunately our wood stove is a small unit (lopi answer) so in order to get an almost all night burn i have to damp it down which makes more particulate pollution.


    Forget about the "overnight burn" The reality is if you have to dampen your stove way down to get an overnight burn, you are burning very inefficiently. Remember, the only thing that really matters is BTUs in the room. If you put the X number of BTUs in the room over 6 hours, or over 8 it makes no difference in the number of BTUs of course, but in fact you are probably getting FEWER into the room with the longer slow burn, as well as adding considerably to the local air pollution.

    New modern stoves want (need) some standing flame in order to reburn as much of the gasses as possible. If you are burning cool enough to see visible smoke, you are loosing BTUs up the chimney, as well as polluting.

    We let the fire go completely out overnight by letting it burn at a nice rate. It keeps the room warmer than otherwise, but then it cools overnight to the same place anyway. It really isn't much of a problem to re-light a new fire in the morning.

    Icarus
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 31,072 admin
    Re: Pellet Stoves?
    lamplight wrote: »
    ...about $500 for 2 "tons", each ton is the equiv of a cord about. we heated the whole house the last 2 yrs on pellets and only used about 2.5 tons each winter @ $260 a ton (which was a high price!) contrast that to my friends oil heat that was $2600 for the winter. the pellets are the best way to heat all around in terms of environment, ease of use and (until recently ) cost...

    Using this multi-fuel cost calculator that has been floating around here for a couple years (first provided by Jim/Crewzer?)...

    Assuming $2.60 per gallon for fuel oil vs $260 per ton/cord for pellets/softwoods (include natural gas at $1.60 per therm, and electricity at $0.12 per kWhr)... The price per Million BTU:
    $23.81 per Million BTU of Heat delivered to home
    $2,261.95 per year for normal home for Oil

    $23.03 per Million BTU of Heat delivered to home
    $2,187.85 per year for normal home for Softwood

    $23.03 per Million BTU of Heat
    delivered to home
    $2,187.85 per year for normal home for Pellets

    $20.00 per Million BTU of Heat delivered to home
    $1,900.00 per year for normal home for Natural Gas

    $35.16 per Million BTU of Heat delivered to home
    $3,340.20 per year for normal home for Electric

    Looks like, for wood vs oil--they are almost equal price per MBTU (delivered into the home--after efficiency losses) when you look at $260 per ton/cord vs $2.60 per gallon for oil...

    Lamplight, I think the huge difference (even if oil was 2x the current price) you are seeing between your costs and your neighbor's... It probably is a testament to your efforts at heating efficiency/insulation/reduction in heating needs vs your neighbor's costs for heating (their's may also include hot water heating?).

    And, the pricing of "scrap" wood waste--is being pretty closely matched with its fuel content--The free market working its magic again...

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
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