Saturday, November 1, 2008

FAQ's- Harman Hydroflex, agrafuels, tax credit, harman stoves

Question: I would love your take on the agripellet market. Seems to be getting started in EU.

Answer: Non-wood pellets are beginning to appear on the market in the mid-west. A sponsor for a recent bioenergy show in Minnesota was Sunrise Agrafuels. Harman was demoing the fuel in their PC45 biomass stove. It burned very well. They use ag residue from farm fields for raw material. The heat was consistent with a woody biomass fuel and the ash content was around 2%. You would definitely need a multi-fuel stove to burn this fuel and it does have a higher ash content but they worked well, and were cleaner than some bark mulch pellets I have seen.

Question: Did you like the new HydroFlex60. Would you get one? Any idea when one might be able to get one?

Answer: I do like the HydroFlex60. It is smaller in size and btu's than Harman's PB105, but it was designed that way. Some uses for it include assisting with geothermal heat pump setups, or smaller homes. I do have plans to install one- hopefully in conjunction with a solar hot water package in the next couple of years. It is anticpated that it will be able to go into production mid to late 2009. They are still trying to fill existing orders with current products. There are only a couple of prototypes so there is no pricing structure that I have seen. I will keep you updated! Here are some pictures for you though.

Question: Is your contact info anywhere on the blog?

Answer: No. I didn't want this site to be a sales tool, just an informational tool. I just want to try to answer things as best I can to promote the industry. If you leave a comment I will do my best to get back to you as quickly and accurately as my schedule allows :)

Question: My question is if (in my Harman P68) I change the temperature from 75 to say 85 will it use more pellets or will it just burn those pellets hotter and distribute that heat in the room more?

Answer: If you have your Harman set on room temperature the stove will use the necessary amount of fuel to keep your room at that desired temperature. Generally a higher temperature setting, 85 in your case, would mean that more fuel will be burned. Keep in mind that outside factors can affect fuel usage as well. Insulation, outside temperature, natural airflow through your home, doors and windows opening. The nice thing is that the Harman's self adjust by taking perpetual temperature readings from your room.

Question: What is the purpose of the feed adjustor on my Harman?

Answer: (from Harman)'The feed rate knob sets the maximum time per minute the control will let the feed motor run. The feed rate knob is set to have the stove perform its best depending on the ash content of the pellets you are burning. A feed rate of 4 to 4 ½ works best for most applications. Once you set the feed rate knob, no further adjustment is needed unless you make a change in pellet quality. A common misconception about the feed rate knob is that turning it to a lower setting will cause you to burn less fuel. Since turning the feed rate knob down will lower the maximum time you allow the feed motor to run every minute, the stove will feed at this maximum rate longer to satisfy the temperature setting, resulting in increased fuel consumption.'

I usually recommend starting at a four and you may need to adjust slightly up if you have long pellets, and less if you have shorter pellets. I have never moved mine off of a 3.5 setting for both my boiler and pellet stove.

Question: I burn a bag and a half of pellets a day. The stove runs constantly but the stove is rarely roaring. Is it better to turn it up so the fire is hotter for shorter amounts of time?

Answer: One of the great things about pellet stoves is their ability to adjust the fuel to air ratio so that you don't need to have a raging fire in all temperature scenarios. You can get an efficient clean burn whether you need 12,000 btu's or 68,000 btu's. Harman self-adjusts to give you the temperature you set. So in the morning if you turn the stove on in a cold house the stove will turn itself on and there will be a large fire. As the day warms the fire will shrink as your heat need is lower. When the sun starts to set and the temperature outside drops the stove may increase the size of flame. The thing to remember is that it will never give you more or less than you ask for.

Question: My dealer is telling me that I should put a deposit down to get on a waiting list for a boiler next year. Do you recommend that?

Answer: We took orders in May and June for stoves that would be delivered through the end of the year. It was a non-refundable deposit. We have not had cancellations and Harman has delivered stoves on schedule. Lennox did not release a stove per it's promise and we did give a couple of folks their money back. We did not take orders beyond the end of the year because stove manufacturer's were not giving ship dates or quantities of stoves for shipment beyond December. We now have numbers from Harman and Lennox for stove ship dates in the first quarter of 2009. We will shortly be taking orders and deposits for those stoves.

Each dealer is different!!!!!!

Questions to ask them might include whether they had a past track record of delivering on time? Do they have an actual ship date for the stove they are selling you? Is the deposit refundable or transferrable? What will they do if the date cannot be met (notification, discount, cancellation policy change...)?
Remember that most dealers are doing their absolute best to give you accurate information and a fair deal.

Question: I heard there was a tax credit for pellet stoves starting in 2009?

Answer: True! Senator John Sununu co-sponsored a tax credit for pellet stoves this fall saying, “We need to encourage renewable energy with strong tax incentives, and I am pleased that this bill includes my 10 percent tax credit for high efficiency wood pellet stoves,” said Sununu. “I have consistently fought to expand renewable energy tax incentives, and this is the second time that the Senate has considered our bipartisan proposal. It was passed in the bailout package in October. The credit will be up to $300 for a pellet stove, insert, or whole house system.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Got Gas? Harman won't.

A sign of the times? Another battle won imho!
News release from HHT and Harman-

Harman Gas Product Notice
October 9, 2008
Dear Harman Dealers,
As you are aware, the Harman brand is esperiencing incredible demand for pellet, wood, coal, and central heat units. We are dedicated to fulfilling your orders which requires us to make business changes to increase capacity, In addition to our existing ramp up plan we are stopping production of gas units for at least 18 months in order to gain production capacity in units with higher demand.
Your existing gas unit orders and pledge amounts will be filled. All gas units on order as of October 9th, 2008 and pledged units converted to orders before February 10th, 2009 will be shipped per acknowledged sales order dates. We will not process additional orders for gas units beyond the dates specified above.
The Harman brand will continue to lead in the hearth industry and make the necessary changes to respond to the market demands. Thank you for your continued support. Please contact your Customer Service Representative if you have any questions.
Karen McSherry
Brand Manager

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

BioEnergy Conference 2008

Minnesota State Univeristy in Mankato was host to the first US International Bioenergy Days with the cooperation of Sweden. Many state and local government representatives including DEED- The Department of Employment and Economic Development and the BioBusiness Alliance particpated and although the governor regretted that he could not attend someone from his office launched the congress. Members from the Swedish Energy Agency and host ÄFAB were also in attendance. The focus of the congress was to connect individuals involved in research, development, and implementation of bioenergy technologies including ethanol, pyrolysis technologies, biomass, wind, carbon sequestration, and solar. Many vendors were present to showcase their wares including a number of Swedish suppliers looking to bring their technology, especially wood chip and biomass pellet oil burners. To my delight HHT the parent company of Harman Stove Company, Quadrafire, Heat n' Glow, and Heatilator was also there showcasing their technolgy and FlexFuel Boiler which is slated to go into production early in 2009. Special guest Will Steger who regaled us with his tales of exploring and traversing the arctic by kayak, and dogsled while giving a first hand account of the consequences of global warming.
Transportation is our largest energy requirement
While thermal heating accounts for about 25% of our energy requirements the US focus for the conference was on vehicle fuel, and electrical generation. The Swedish presenters and attendees shared their success with biomass and roundwood district heating, large scale, small scale and residential heating in addition to their electrical generation and co-generation facilities.
Forty-eight percent of Sweden's energy comes from Biomass and 63% from non-petroleum sources. District Heating is the most common thermal biomass use with 10 Megawatts being the average size. This is an excellent model of a (carbon nuetral) closed system- wood chips/biomass pellets --> heat --> ashes--> fertilizer...
Emissions by energy sector are 24% transportation, 20% industrial, 28% homes and buildings, and 32% Electrical.
Globally petroleum demand is at 82 million barrels per day, and although there is concensus that peak oil occurred in 2006-2008 it is estimated that by 2020 global demand will reach 120 million barrels per day. India and China's demand alone help cement this demand curve rise.
Very interesting presentations on global warming, including a CO2 chart showing atmospheric CO2 levels over the last 600,000 years with an average swing from 50 ppm to 250 ppm. Until 1800 that is when we have had a steady rise from just above 50 ppm to 380 ppm in 2004, and an estimated destination of 750 ppm by 2100. Renewable fuels including biomass wood pellets are part of the solution to help slow the rise of CO2 in our atmosphere.
There were two big things I came away from the conference with. First, there is not one answer, not one fuel solution. It will take the cooperation of technologies and methods to help meet global transportation, industrial, thermal, and electrical demands.
The other was when Mr. Michael Bruce, the Senior Advisor for Finance, from the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy sector of the Department of Energy did his presentation on government subsidies, tax credits, and support programs provided by the DOE. When Bruce Lisle, the former Pellet Fuels Institute President, asked him why there was no mention of or allowance for thermal, which accounts for 25% of energy, in his presentation, funding, or support. After sharing a puzzled deer in the headlights look with a fellow presenter he said they had no allocation for thermal because we have natural gas. (PERIOD!) Follow up questions tried to pursue the lack of consideration for something that is so significant to be responded to that we don't need any programs for thermal or thermal biomass.
I encourage each and every one to write a letter to your local congressmen/women, senators, and Mr. Bruce. If you need help finding contact information for your local representatives e-mail me and I will assist you. Mr. Bruce's contact information is:
Michael Bruce
Senior Advisor for Finance
US Department of Energy
1000 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20585

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Our little shop has taken a giant leap into modern biomass distribution. It sounds pretty dramatic, eh? Actually, it's very simple. Bulk fuel. Although wood pellet technology began in the US it is Europe that has run with the technology. The majority of their systems are whole house systems utilizing bulk feed. Driving down the roads you see pellet tank trucks driving about like you would see oil trucks in New England. The US has the majority of it's fuel packaged in forty pound bags, palletized, and covered with a plastic hood. This has made it easy for people with limited storage to obtain the fuel, and makes it easy to store as it is in (semi) weather proof packaging. Now that the US seems to be realizing the power of pellet as an alternative to oil heat, and embracing the use of it as a whole house heater the obvious next move is bulk. This would benefit in many ways.
First would be the supply chain. Now, instead of scrambling to secure your year's supply in April (along with 50-70% of other users) you could have your fuel delivered to your home throughout the year as you need it. This would help to level the pricing as well. Instead of being dramatically "cheaper" in the spring and "expensive" in the winter it will be affordable year round. The convenience and ease will increase dramatically. No more lugging bags and filling your stove daily. Even my mid-step system allows me to fill my Harman Bulk Bin every week to three, instead of daily even if I did use bags in the past. Oh yes, then there are the bags. How much extra cost will we save when we don't have fifty disposable bags, and a plastic hood, and plastic wrap for the pallet? The environmental benefit aside those bags cost $$$! They also represent additional weight in shipping. All the little pieces add up to the benefits of bulk!

I am excited about the future of pellets! Let's see how far we can go...

Monday, August 11, 2008

New England Wood Pellet

One of the largest pellet mills in New England had a two alarm fire last night. The initial call went out shortly after nine. Crews were on scene until well after midnight. The automatic fire alarm was tripped and an employee called in the fire. It was indicated that it started in an electrical panel. The cooler was kindled and the first extinguished. This was a delicate task because pellets absorb water and the cooler is not designed to hold that much weight. The fire then moved to a storage silo outside the building. More ladders were called in. It is fortunate that Jaffrey had recently moved their water line further up Old Sharon Road so it could be used in this situation.

Picture taken from NEWP entrance 8/11 am.

At some point in the early morning hours a re-ignition occurred in one of the raw material storage bins behind the facility. Crews are still on scene to extinguish this silo.

Picture from WMUR
An employee commented that about the time the call went out last night Jaffrey had been experiencing brown-outs due to the severe thunderstorms moving through the area.
This is a very high demand year for pellets in New England. Mills run twenty-four seven to try to keep up with demand. This could close NEWP for several weeks putting a crimp or at least a delay in supplies. The good news is that they should still be able to receive raw material supplies so that when they are back up and running they have ample sawdust to work with.

Picture from WMUR

Update The remaining silo that was smoldering was extinguished then emptied. Fire fighters are shoveled out the largest (80 ton) silo, that held finished product, by hand. Over two dozen towns responded to the site over the last 22+ hours. Two firefighters sustained minor injuries.

For video coverage see WMUR at

BIG THANK YOU to all the firefighters that responded and helped with this situation. Crews from 25 towns responded. Some of those from volunteer departments. The last crew pulled out around 1:00am this morning.

All firefighters did a great job containing the situation, preventing injury, and saving the equipment from damage where they could.

Silos are a little wet, but o.k. Some equipment inside may need minor repair but NEWP is confident that they will be up and running in a very short amount time.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Finding value in lumber mill leftovers
Demand for sawdust has grown tremendously, with prices in some parts of the country doubling. But the housing slump means there's less of this unlikely commodity to go around. Nina Keck reports.
Listen at
Kai Ryssdal: Even if you don't read the financial news all that closely, you can probably name at least a couple of commodities right off the top of your head, right?
I bet sawdust didn't come to mind. Most of us probably think of it as something to sweep into the garbage after the sawing's done, but demand has grown enormously.
As Vermont Public Radio's Nina Keck reports with wood manufacturing and construction down due to the housing slump, sawdust is at a premium.
Nina Keck: Gagnon Lumber in Pittsford, Vermont produces between 25 to 30 tons of sawdust a week. Underneath the saws, a conveyor belt carries a steady stream of the sweet smelling remnants to a huge pile.
Owner Ken Gagnon says he sells most of it to area farmers.
Ken Gagnon: The sawmill business and agricultural farming have been hand in hand through history, so there's always been a market for a certain amount of sawdust, whatever the farmers could use for his cows.
But sawdust has come a long way from its use as a cushy barn bed. Landscapers and gardeners like it for mulch while meat smokers use it as an aromatic flavoring. Finely ground sawdust is a lightweight filler in many plastic products. It's used to make particle and fiberboard and it's become a valuable renewable fuel source in the form of wood pellets.
Charlie Niebling runs a wood pellet plant in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.
Charlie Niebling: With heating oil approaching $5 a gallon, people are genuinely concerned and anxious. A lot of people are thinking seriously about alternatives now.
Niebling says he can't make wood pellets fast enough. But while demand for wood byproducts is at an all-time high, supplies are down.
Ken Gagnon and mill owners across the country blame the drop in construction.
Gagnon: We've been going through a correction for pretty near two years here on our level, so we're actually not producing as much lumber as we could, which has an indirect effect on how much sawdust we make.
But if sawdust is so precious, I asked Gagnon why not make more of it? For now, he says, even in the middle of a housing slump, it's still more profitable to mill lumber.
Gagnon: It may come to a time where the byproducts are going to be the saving grace of the lumber industry. I think the housing market will come back, but I really see the byproducts, primarily the biofuels, whether it's sawdust or chips, will be a big part of things to come.
Chris Recchia thinks that's already happening. Recchia is Executive Director of the Biomas Energy Research Center.
Chris Recchia: This has transitioned from a waste product, a byproduct, to a real commodity. That is the turning point that we're at right now, which we think is a very good thing.
Because, Recchia says, it's encouraging better use of resources. Typically when loggers finish a job, they'll leave behind a lot of low grade cuttings not suitable for lumber. Now that wood byproducts are fetching a higher price, loggers can process and sell what they used to consider waste wood to people like Charlie Niebling of New England Wood Pellet.
Niebling: We are purchasing material from logging contractors who harvest this low grade material that otherwise has little value, take the bark off of it for us, chip it and send the chips to us and that simply wasn't possible three or four years ago.
Niebling says in their company, the term "waste wood" no longer exists.
For Marketplace, I'm Nina Keck in Chittenden, Vermont.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

PFI Meeting 2008

When a couple of the HHT executives came to our shop a couple of months ago they asked us if we were going to be attending Harman's annual dealer meeting. We said, "No. Because the PFI had sent out their notice of annual meeting months before, and by the way why would Harman book their meeting when the PFI has theirs?" The response stopped me in my tracks. "PFI- What is it that they do, again?" Unfortunately, in many ways I agree with his assessment that the PFI is disjointed, unorganized, and in many cases ineffectual, but I would have liked to see a more proactive response of having industry reps get more involved to help get it on the right path than having them mock it and walk away. He is a good guy, don't get me wrong, it just wasn't what I hoped to hear.
So, off to muggy South Carolina for the meeting. There were probably approximately 250 people in attendance. This has grown impressively. According to one long time member they started back in Missouri in the early 1990's with six people meeting in a hotel room. In attendance were mostly fuel manufacturer's, pellet mill equipment manufacturer's, two maybe three stove manufacturer's reps- including Dan Henry from HHT, a couple of commercial boiler manufacturer's, and three maybe four dealers.
The board meeting took place the day before we arrived. There was a little "professional" scuffle that changed their intended path for leadership. Scott Jacobs from Ozark Pellets in Missouri emerged as the new PFI President, replacing long time President Bruce Lisle of Energex.
After opening comments John Swaan from the Wood Pellet Association of Canada was first to speak. He talked of the success in exporting fuel to Europe. How we exported more pellet fuel to Europe last year than we used domestically, and future growth potential. He was followed by Christian Rakos from an Austrian company who affirmed the success of wood pellet for use as fuel and energy, and said that they would be willing to share their experiences to help us grow.
Dave Atkins did a presentation on a program called Fuels for Schools in which chip fired and/or pellet fired boiler systems were being installed in schools through a grant program. The savings experienced by these schools was impressive.
A representative from ACORE (American Council on Renewable Energy) did a presentation on the potential of biomass energy, and how the pellet industry could benefit from partnering with ACORE.
Then the conversation really steared toward commercial/industrial uses and introduced the catch phrase of the weekend- Biomass Thermal Energy. Their presentation conveyed to the fuel manufacturers that the real growth in the industry was in commercial and industrial applications. Large boiler systems are beginning to emerge, and larger players are developing ground level partnerships for energy production, and industrial applications. There were a couple of larger boiler manufacturer's present who presented their system, and partnership proposals to install these larger systems which would be delivered by bulk from the manufacturers directly.
They also spoke of new legislation that would subsidize biomass use for power production. There was concern among the group about raw material difficulties, and how this would magnefy the issues if they were competing against groups that could use the subsidy. Talk shifted to government affairs with the usual plea for funds for lobbying efforts. This is where the PFI seems to get stuck. The talk of raw material shortages arises. Then it is clarified that the easy and inexpensive raw material is getting difficult to get. You have to pay where ten years ago you may not have... Then talk turns to growing both individually and as an industry. A great number of pellet mills are not interested in growth. I can see their point. Growth is risky- Remember what happened the last time the industry took a big leap in 2005 pulling in all sorts of fuel from Canada's West coast and put big bucks into processing plants? We certainly do. To put a number on it, dealer's who grew capacity to meet the last demand bubble lost five figures, pellet mills lost six to seven figures, and stove manufacturer's lost seven or eight figures. That is a lot of zeroes!! Thus the PFI divides. Small stable growth to support local residential markets on one end, and the extreme company that wants to go all commercial industrial and spend every penny on government lobbying on the other.
The conference had it's light moments, like when Dan Henry's friend sang a song he had written in the seventies about a Plain Ol' Brown Recyclable Paper Sack (I think I got it right??), and it was good to see familiar faces, and try to get a feel for their take on the current situation.
There was a good conversation about standards. They have come up with a label and testing system that will classify wood pellets more consistently, and slightly more accurately. The big definer will still be ash content, although it will also include btu's sodium content, etc. This will help the end user have a better idea about what is in the bag as 99% of pellets on the market claim premium status by the current definition.
I do have to say that as a dealer I would have been very disappointed if I attended the PFI conference hoping for answers about pellet fuel availability and solutions for the current situation in the Northeast. There really, that I noticed, was no talk of residential use, dealers, or supply issues in the Northeast.
The focus of this conference was commercial and industrial applications, using wood pellets for thermal energy, and obtaining government support.
I walked away from the conference with two main thoughts- We are now exporting more inexpensive wood pellet fuel to Europe than we use domestically, while importing even more expensive oil. The growth of this industry, at least by the the main Northeast pellet manufacturer's desire, is in commercial and industrial applications.