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Pellet stoves

 
gardener
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Has anyone had any success with making their own pellets for pellet heating systems?
 
pollinator
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seems a lot of effort for little return to me . Logs are much less effort and cost
 
Mandy Launchbury-Rainey
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But logs don't fit in a pellet burner...
 
David Livingston
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which is why I would never buy one :-)
 
Mandy Launchbury-Rainey
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Good point well made!
 
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I don't know of any do-it-yourself pellets. I do solar energy projects. I've been wondering what I can manufacture using solar and waste materials. Maybe pellets? Or tumbled glass? Or a solar sawmill?
I've known some disabled people who benefitted greatly from a pellet stove. I'm a stove designer and I'd rather have a pellet stove and consistent fuel quality than a poorly designed wood stove and unknown fuel quality.
 
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Engineers without borders has a design to make a press for larger bio waste bricks, but pellets are pretty hard to do on a homestead scale.  I looked because I had unlimited access to sawdust.
 
Mandy Launchbury-Rainey
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That is why we have it. I am not physically capable of chopping or carrying wood. And I need stable and continuous warmth 24/7. Thank you for your understanding Jeremy Baker.
 
David Livingston
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Have you checked out the rocket mass heaters ?
You dont need big logs nor do you have to feed them all day .

David
 
Mandy Launchbury-Rainey
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Thank you for your comments R Scott and Jeremy Baker. I know our local carpenter uses his sawdust to make briquetts which feed into his hoppers to heat his mill but that is on a huge scale. I was just wondering if small pellet making was possible as online comments seem to go to and fro. Solar pellet making would be awesome!
 
Mandy Launchbury-Rainey
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Many thanks. As I have said, it isn't the stove but a machine to make pellets that I am looking for. Pellet stoves are widely used here, as is underfloor heating, which is, in effect, mass heating, and building codes here are strict, i.e. a rocket mass heater would not be allowed. But while pellets are readily available, the means to make them are not, and we produce enough coppiced wood that would make  such a machine viable between several families.
 
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"Pellet Mills" (search ebay to find out more) can be have from about 1000 EUR, if you happen to have a tractor where it can be connected. Without a tractor those are more expensive, though the real expensive item seems the machine that makes the wood "dust" needed to feed those "Pellet Mills"? So it might be cheaper to find a (local) source where you can buy pellets cheap.

I do not like those stoves, they do not heat very well and you depend on the pellets which are much more expensive then if you buy fire-wood.
 
Mandy Launchbury-Rainey
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Thank you for your reply and advice. We can buy pellets cheap and the fact that so many people here are moving from firewood to pellet stoves speaks for their effficiency. It wasnt the cost of the pellets, it was the ability to make our own that we are interested in.  I have checked out ebay and cannot find any european sourced machines. I still hold out hope that a permie from Europe willl know where one can be obtained!
In the meantime, I am following the thread In Praise of the Pellet and am considering corn and cherry pits. Cherries grow like weeds here, especially the wild ones which have very small pits.
Keep warm Permies!
 
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Mike Homest wrote:
I do not like those stoves, they do not heat very well and you depend on the pellets which are much more expensive then if you buy fire-wood.



We heat a 2400 sq ft house with a pellet stove alone.  It is in the basement and heats the entire house for approx $600 a year in an area that hits -20F every year, and usually for a pretty extended amount of time, and hit -39F this year.  

By the time I figure my gas and oil, my chainsaw purchase and upkeep, and my time, I can't heat for firewood anywhere near as inexpensively as I can with pellets, and that is considering the fact that I own 80 acres and have all the fallen trees I could ever cut.  I also already own a truck, so I'm not counting that expense.  Heating with pellets is also much more convenient.  I unload them once, and dump a bag in once a day, a bag and a half if it's really cold.  I never have to start a fire, don't need a tractor to drag logs out of the woods to an area where I can cut them into firewood, load them in the truck, haul them to the house, unload and stack them, and then carry them to the wood furnace and load it.

It happens that I enjoy cutting wood, and I do it for camp fires, and to get wood for biochar, and to stockpile for use in our fireplace and for use in our two wood stoves in case of a power outage.  I think that puts me in a fairly good position to compare the two, and in my mind, in any sort of comparison, if pellets are available, they are a much cheaper and more convenient way to go.
 
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I looked into it, and it does not seem feasible on a home scale.

Even though I make my own equipment, I could not make wood pellets efficient, not when purchased machines only produce 600 pounds of pellets per hour. If the time it would take to make pellets is not bad enough, it takes multiple machines, chipper, hammermill, pellet maker just to produce pellets that can be had for $200 a ton.

BUT that does not mean a person cannot go in a different direction. If pellets are not feasible to make, what about burning something that is!

As I type this I am burning corn in a cheap pellet stove that is NOT designed for it. It burns them quite well, in fact too well. I found corn to be about twice as hot as burning wood pellets, so i mix my corn in with wood pellets at a 50/50 mixture, then run my stove at the lowest setting. This is purchased whole corn, but it really is not that much more expensive than wood pellets because the bag is 50 pounds instead of 40 pounds, and I get twice the heat out of it.

After this experiment, I have two choices. I can try producing my own corn next growing season and mix my corn at 50/50 mix, or I can make/buy a pellet stove that can burn 100% corn. Even if I have to mix my corn at 50/50 mix, I still have cut my winter heat cost in half. I know I can produce corn for a lot less than $200 a ton!

...

Myself, I used to HATE pellet stoves, thinking it was stupid to buy wood pellets when I had hundreds of acres of forest at my disposal. However now my feelings have drastically changed. With the ability to control the heat evenly, it being a very safe wood burning system, long burn times, and tight clearances for the stove; what is not to love about them? The only thing I dislike is BUYING pellets, but if I can produce and burn corn, I have just hit the holy grail of winter heat.

Cheap
Efficient
Time Efficient
Constant Temperature
Safe
Environmentally Friendly

 
Travis Johnson
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One thing I noticed about burning corn: I assumed their high moisture content would be a problem, but that is NOT the case. As the pellets/corn sit in the hopper, they are warmed, drying off the corn kernels so that they burn exceedingly well when they are augured in.
 
Mandy Launchbury-Rainey
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Excellent, thank you Travis!
 
Mike Homest
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Ops, hard to answer anything.

200 US$/ton is about 0.2 US$/kg, here 0.26 US$/kg and firewood (delivered) is the half about 0.13  US$/kg.

It is IMHO not the efficiency of pellet stoves, but the more convenient to run, what makes people using them. On the downside the burn is rather boring, compared to firewood.

Sure it takes some time/effort to make your own firewood, but what is mostly overlooked, all the energy consumed to make pellets, often the wood is mechanically dried, transport and so until the end up in your stove, is a huge waste. If you make your firewood from your own forest at your homestead with few/basic machines, let it dry naturally. There is very little extra energy needed. I split manually, so no energy (despite mine), transport on a walking tractor/with trailer where it seems more fuel is lost through condensing then actually running or/and wheelbarrow. And the little fuel for the chainsaw.

But then, making/burning firewood is kind of philosophie, hard to understand I know. In addition your own firewood has already heated you multiple times before it goes in the stove.

On a site note, I wouldn't have thought people burn corn to heat?
 
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We have a lot of knapweed here.   And some places have other weeds that they don't want to use as mulch for fear that the seeds from the cut plants will find a way to spread.  

I wonder about converting unwanted plants into pellets.  
 
Travis Johnson
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paul wheaton wrote:We have a lot of knapweed here.   And some places have other weeds that they don't want to use as mulch for fear that the seeds from the cut plants will find a way to spread.  

I wonder about converting unwanted plants into pellets.  




The term pellet stove )or pellet furnace, or pellet boiler) is a real misnomer. Most manufactures call them "Biomass Stoves", because any biomass product can be burned in them.

Burning any pellet derivative is not the problem because feed rate can adjust to whatever differnce they have in BTU's for a given type of biofuel...wood, soybeans, corn, or knapweed.

The real problem is, making a pellet out of the product. No matter what is used, it has to be shredded to a small size, then run through a pellet-maker, then dried. The last part can be done in the field, depending on what it is. For example, if corn or sunflowers are allowed to be frost-killed, the wind will thus dry them significantly. But shredding the product, and then running it through an expensive pellet-maker, would be the problem. I could make one, but 600 pounds of pellets per hour...for each step? For me, I burn 3 ton per year, that is 20 hours of labor! I could produce 10 full cords of firewood for the same amount of time.

That is no good.

But corn kernels and sunflower seeds are already the perfect size, so there is no need to make/buy expensive equipment to press them into a usable shape.

Since 3 tons of corn would require only 1/2 an acre of land, (1 acre for sunflowers)...we have to ask ourselves if we can compete with firewood time wise? I think that is easy. I am growing a garden anyway so increasing it by 1/2 an acre is nothing; I am already on the tractor. So, sowing, weeding, etc is going to go quick for only 1/2 an acre as well. Harvesting 1/2 an acre of corn...maybe a day by hand (I do not have a corn harvester). Now we have to shell the corn, but homemade machines are simple compared to pellet-makers, and they are super fast at stripping the kernels. At this point we are done, just load up a hopper and wait for winter. Two, three days. This is the same as firewood when you factor in felling, twitching, bucking, splitting, moving, stacking, etc.

But with firewood, a person has to load the firebox. With pellet stoves, as heat is required, the pellets are augured into the stove. I can leave my house for a few days and not have my pipes freeze because the stove died.

A person could compare many types of heat to pellet stoves, I just have to use firewood because firewood is "free" for me. If I can produce pellets for about the same costs as firewood, and it takes the same amount of my time, but is superior in terms of burning convenience, it wins out. At this point producing and burning my own corn seems to work in all aspects.

 
 
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Travis, I agree that using corn in a pellet stove is a sensible, renewable biomass for heating. Many farmers in this area use corn. I have considered it too. There are really only 2 reasons we are looking at wood burning stoves. 1) Wood burning stoves work during a power outage, and our power is a bit unreliable. 2) Ambiance. If we had reliable electric, or if we had a better ability to go off grid, the corn stove would win out.
 
Travis Johnson
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Myrth Montana wrote:Travis, I agree that using corn in a pellet stove is a sensible, renewable biomass for heating. Many farmers in this area use corn. I have considered it too. There are really only 2 reasons we are looking at wood burning stoves. 1) Wood burning stoves work during a power outage, and our power is a bit unreliable. 2) Ambiance. If we had reliable electric, or if we had a better ability to go off grid, the corn stove would win out.



I hear you, and understand as everyone is different. For instance I have a 20 KW back up Generator so I am never without power.

For me, I had Christmas diner at the Happy China Buffet while my wife and family went to the in-laws in New Hampshire, all because I was baby sitting a woodstove. In the ideal world, I could have a woodstove and back up heating system, but that seems silly to spend money on (2) systems to heat (1) house. So for me, I really like the idea of a pellet furnace and a bin that can feed by a bin.

Sadly, I have been unsuccessful in finding a decently priced Pellet Furnace. I hate to say it, but I might just have to build my own! (Yikes)
 
Myrth Gardener
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Travis Johnson wrote:

Myrth Montana wrote:Travis, I agree that using corn in a pellet stove is a sensible, renewable biomass for heating. Many farmers in this area use corn. I have considered it too. There are really only 2 reasons we are looking at wood burning stoves. 1) Wood burning stoves work during a power outage, and our power is a bit unreliable. 2) Ambiance. If we had reliable electric, or if we had a better ability to go off grid, the corn stove would win out.



I hear you, and understand as everyone is different. For instance I have a 20 KW back up Generator so I am never without power.

For me, I had Christmas diner at the Happy China Buffet while my wife and family went to the in-laws in New Hampshire, all because I was baby sitting a woodstove. In the ideal world, I could have a woodstove and back up heating system, but that seems silly to spend money on (2) systems to heat (1) house. So for me, I really like the idea of a pellet furnace and a bin that can feed by a bin.

Sadly, I have been unsuccessful in finding a decently priced Pellet Furnace. I hate to say it, but I might just have to build my own! (Yikes)



I cannot imagine setting up my home so that I could never leave to see family. How sad. Glad you remedied that.

We believe in redundant systems so that if one fails we have another. Our main heat source is propane, with a backup of electric. We wish to add wood as an alternate backup. Things break. If our furnace went down and needed a part, we have electric. But we want wood in case the electric goes down too.

We have a generator, but it is gas powered and thus one has to fill it frequently. So running the generator in order to run a pellet stove would mean trips outside to fill the genny rather than trips across the living room to add wood to the stove.

But as you say, YMMV.

What is your backup if your pellet stove breaks down (auger fails, etc.)?
 
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I have also looked in Europe and found that there is no way machinery would recoop the cost of purchase. (I found a chinese made mill but it had very specific requirement on feedstock and moisture levels) We've just bought a house with a pellet furnace so have no experience running it, it specifically says it can ONLY burn wood pellets not anything else, although people around here do sell "burning corn" (which is wheat or rye) so either it lies or other people have different ones.

Firewood is cheaper, but if you are not home there is no heat, our present house drops down to 10C overnight and of course is in danger of freezing when we go away. The pellet furnace does NOT have an electric ignition so it still needs hand starting, but it will at least burn for a while without attention, I don't know how often the ash needs emptying but the old oil barrel hopper will hold enough fuel for a while at least. Neither system works without electricity, as the wood burner has an electric pump to get the water round the radiators.  in the last 5 years we've lost power once for around 3 hours, it is not a common event, but just in case we have a gas heater that can be wheeled out, we also have a gas cooker so in effect that is two heaters, we always have spare gas bottles as I'm not running out in the middle of cooking dinner. There is no ambience with either as they both live in barns and are fully enclosed.
 
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