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3 Easy Ways to Install a Pellet Stove

Harvesting Corn's Heating Benefits

"A bushel a day will keep the cold away!" This may serve as the motto for Mike Haefner of American Energy Systems (AES), the stove manufacturer which has been among the industry leaders in bringing corn burning to prominence in recent years.

"Today, the idea of burning corn and other agri-fuels is really taking off, and it's stove dealerships who are harvesting the benefits," says Haefner.

"With energy prices and issues making national news lately, it's no wonder that lower-cost forms of home heating are being covered in the media. The many television, newspaper and radio reports talking about the benefits of burning corn, among other fuels, has translated into an acceptance by the public."

As Haefner notes, corn-burning technology is not a recent innovation, but one that developed about 20 years ago.

"It's just that it did not 'grab our ear' until the last seven years or so," he remarks. "Within the past few years, state-of-the-art electronics and combustion processes are allowing the everyday consumer to economically heat their home without the back-breaking task associated with solid fuel burning," says Haefner.

"Corn is easily stored and very easy to get into the appliances. Corn is readily available anywhere - you just need to find the local distribution centers and arrange to get a steady supply," according to Haefner. Getting corn at the local feed store is a more expensive option, "because they are selling it more as a value-added fuel for feeding chickens or deer. Users need to get closer to the source to get corn at the market price," he adds.

AES' involvement in the first of a series of corn storage silo projects - in Takoma Park, Md., through the involvement of the Chesapeake Environmental Action Committee - indicates the additional efforts to improve availability.

Haefner believes the relatively stable pricing of corn - it has averaged around $2 per bushel for more than 20 years - is a main reason it stands out as a fuel of choice for users, along with its abundance and its high BTU value - which will vary with moisture content but averages around 7,500 BTUs per pound.

But the technology used to burn corn is significantly different from what is used to burn other biomass fuels, such as wood pellets, warns Haefner.

"It can actually be dangerous to burn corn in an appliance dedicated to wood pellets. Mixing corn and wood pellets in a unit designed strictly for wood pellets becomes an issue, as the corn will separate from the wood pellets and then you will be feeding separate fuels," notes Haefner. "This can plug or burn out heat exchangers and cause damage to the unit and the home."

A properly designed corn-burning appliance can burn other fuels, including wood pellets, cherry pits and other biomass fuels, although quite a few appliances on the market require changes in the firepot or combustion system.

As Haefner says, "It is important for the hearth dealer to make sure the appliance that he is going to sell has been around long enough for the bugs to be worked out, and make sure that the appliance is actually tested and approved for burning corn and other fuels."

Republished with permission from the January 2006 issue.

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