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Pelletizing autumn leaves  RSS feed

 
Ken Peavey
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Location: FL
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So I've been looking hard at pellet mills. Examples can be found at pelletpros.com. In particular, I've been looking at them from the standpoint of pelletizing materials other than sawdust. I've watched videos of leaves, grass, hay, and god knows what else. Wood pellets have the advantage of producing a tiny amount of ash, around 1%, whereas these alternative materials produce considerably more, say 10%. Because of this high ash production, these alternative materials are best burned in a multi-fuel pellet stove.

I'm having a hard time finding information specific to these alternative feedstocks. Fall leaves are abundant, are gathered by cities and towns across the US, and are renewed each year. Why are they not being processed into fuel pellets? Grasses are also annually renewable. There is a company in Canada producing fuel pellets using hay and/or straw as the feedstock, and having some success.

Leaves have the advantage that they do not require a binder. Sawdust needs a binder added, cornstarch works, and there are liquid products on the market. The heat of compression causes the lignin in the leaves to serve as a binder. The only flaw I see with the leaves is the need to remove sticks and rocks. Is there something else I'm missing?

From what I can tell, raw leaves have about 60% of the energy content as the wood of the species of tree from which they fell. Compressed into pellets, I'm not able to find a BTU rating per unit of mass.

Have you pelletized anything?
How is it working for you?
If you have done leaves, what sort of issues present?
How does the energy output compare?
Is an extra few pounds of ash each day such a hassle?
 
Saybian Morgan
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Posts: 582
Location: Lower Mainland British Columbia Canada Zone 8a/ Manchester Jamaica
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Ken Peavey wrote:Have you pelletized anything?
How is it working for you?
If you have done leaves, what sort of issues present?
How does the energy output compare?
Is an extra few pounds of ash each day such a hassle?


What a difference a year on the forum makes! I was asking these same questions last year and nobody could answer.
But guess who can answer now!
So your right in line, i bought a pellet pros hammer mill and pellet mill and had them shipped to canada. I run them off my dryer outlet from the kitchen....... yes i make a uncleanable amount of dust......

Hows it working, it works great for how small scale I was allowed to get in the game. I've had a few bumps along the way because I started from zero knowledge, but katie at pellot pros held my hand from way back right up to calling me on thanksgiving weekend because she was worried. I exclusively pelletize or fail to pelletize only things that have zero pellet recipes. I don't know what my malady is but it's like I don't understand basic chemistry but in a maverick I've made it work. I no longer try to pelletize grain with dried forage anymore, it's the stupidest and most time consuming thing i've done with my machines. I get pellets but I had to go back to the feed cement mixer allot of times to adjust the recipe, only to have the pellets explode while in storage at the slightest hint of moisture. I finaly mastered it when i learned to use grass as a binding agent but it's overkill for ducks and rabbits like there hay long. What they go crazy for is jerusalem artichoke, comfrey and lemon balm pellets, they eat the whole sunchoke ground up stem and all.

On the question of energy output, now where getting in to regular stuff pellet mills can do. I've only done it for fun but yes if your material going in is energy neutral like grass from a reel mower you can make enough pellets with electricity to be producing more than your consuming. But it get's dicey as you have to reduce most materials down to a quarter inch particle size give or take the material.

I use wood pellets in my rocket stove dehydrating room but that doesn't have much to do with home pelletizing unless I lived off wood fuels. I get mad sometimes when I think about how much energy I could get out of a free 40 yards of woodchips, so im not saying it's not worth four or five days work to put away a pallet or two of pellets. But you gotta have that material on hand, the more you go searching with fossil fuels to make wood fuels the more you should of just bought a pallet worth for the winter.

I find for want sillyness I want to do seasonaly over a grueling weekend of hauling and rumbling is fine for now to keep my animals happy but it wont pay itself back until I'm living a fulltime permaculture lifestyle on a larger scale. I did use it constantly when I took 10 months off to farm hard, but I think i would get really bored with it if i kept making the same thing over and over. As much as I made a mess, working with forage was really exciting as you try to build upon each ingredient to forfill the components needed to pelletize. I've had too much water and I've had to little, I know i couldn't live without the moisture meter either.

I hope me spouting off about pellet mills might get your mind thinking of what other tangents you could be pursuing if your seriously thinking of buying.
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
Posts: 3737
Location: Vermont, off grid for 24 years!
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Saybian Morgan wrote: exclusively pelletize or fail to pelletize only things that have zero pellet recipes. I don't know what my malady is but it's like I don't understand basic chemistry but in a maverick I've made it work.


It's just a tinkerer's malady and I think many permaculturalists have it bad.

I have daydreamed about pelletizing comfrey.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I have to wonder how much time and energy goes into gathering and processing a given amount of feedstock. If I'm gathering and processing firewood, a few hundred pounds per hour are produced using a minimal amount of chainsaw fuel. There's not much driving involved. Lots of people want to get rid of wood. Smaller stuff is cut with loppers. I would never want to burn up my broadleaf leaves, since they are a valuable fertilizer containing far more nutrient than an equivalent weight of wood. That's part of why there is more ash.

Is the desire to make fuel pellets driven by a commitment that has been made to an expensive stove ? Does the labor saved in stove feeding, make up for all or the labor and expense of making pellets ? Have you had trouble locating free sources of firewood ? To me, winter evening time is not as valuable as summer day time. I would never do an even trade of summer days spent working at something that will save me time in the evening when it might do me some good to get off the couch and feed regular firewood into a stove.

I don't know much about Florida's free firewood supply other than the pictures of wood laying everywhere, that make the news whenever there is a hurricane. I'm completely familiar with the abundance of free wood available in Vancouver. Trees grow fast here. People pay to get rid of wood waste. Most landscapers will gladly give away all of their trimmings. I did some pruning for customers in Victoria yesterday. In a few minutes, I will run an add for free firewood, and by noon, I'll be on the phone with someone who owns a wood stove and a pick up truck.
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To anyone who wants to heat for free. If you live somewhere that gets enough rain for trees to grow, somebody nearby needs to get some big branches out of their yard. A small saw will pay for itself on day one, if you go commercial. I paid $125 two years ago for the small Stihl that I used yesterday to do a job that paid $200. I burnt about $3 in gas and oil. The wood is a byproduct that I have no time to deal with. The guy who answers my add is going to get about 500 lb of de limbed wood that will take half an hour to load. He might have 2 hours into it after processing and stacking. That's 250 lb. of fuel per hour, piled and ready for winter.
 
Cj Sloane
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Location: Vermont, off grid for 24 years!
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I agree with Dale about better ways to heat and looking at Ken's location I wonder if it was more of a hypothetical question since there aren't too many autumn leaves in Florida and not too much need for heat! Pelletizing autumn leaves might make more sense if used as a bedding for animals or maybe mulch. Not sure if the extra work/expense would be worth it but it'd be easier to store lots of it then loose leaves stored in garbage bags.

I could use some leaves now for the coop but there's too much snow & ice covering them.
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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It is a really good mental exercise--not just autumn leaves but any dryish biomass in the warmer climes. Places that don't raise hardwood, but need some fuel for heating and cooking. Pellets work really well in TLUD stoves.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Update -- A young man named Kevin called me 30 minutes ago. He's only working part time and his dad is going to pay him to store up a couple years worth of wood. He will be at my job site for about an hour and a half, with most of that time spent on clean up of small branches. The light branches go in first, then the firewood on top. His house is 5 blocks away. He'll drop off the wood at home. Afterward, he will drive about 3 miles to the branch dump, where you dump for free. I'm paying him $50. He'll have about 2 1/2 hours in it by the time the load is off the truck. I've found that it's much easier to give away wood when there's money to be made.

Two others called while I typed this. Firewood is free or cheaper than free if you plan things well.

End of day edit --- I got about 12 calls. The add was canceled at noon. Half of them have a suitable truck. Some were older guys whose primary concern was free wood. Most were younger guys who need the money. I will keep the list. The young guy who came, borrowed his dad's truck. His dad gets the wood. He keeps the $50. Everybody involved got what they needed from this arrangement. Did I mention that wood is free ?
 
Dale Hodgins
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R Scott wrote:It is a really good mental exercise--not just autumn leaves but any dryish biomass in the warmer climes. Places that don't raise hardwood, but need some fuel for heating and cooking. Pellets work really well in TLUD stoves.


Mr. Scott makes a valid point for dry places like Kansas. Russian fireplaces were the traditional heating system on similar dry plains there. Tightly wound bundles of straw were used to produce a very hot fire. Twisted straw was the only binder. Tons of thermal mass stored the heat. This is a mega straw burner at a German farm. They sell power to the grid. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9CDXFn-iqzg
 
Humans and their filthy friendship brings nothing but trouble. My only solace is this tiny ad:
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