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SUNY Canton studying efficiency of automatic-feeding wood pellet boilers

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CANTON - Rural residents in upstate New York may be able to offset the high cost of fossil fuels by implementing new wood pellet boilers with large-capacity feeding capabilities.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced a $163,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) for SUNY Canton to measure the efficiency of automatic-feeding wood pellet boilers.

“We will study all aspects of the combustion process of wood pellets and can determine how efficient a heating appliance will be when installed for residential or commercial use,” said Michael J. Newtown, interim dean of the Canino School of Engineering Technology. “A component of this grant is to demonstrate the long term efficiencies and emissions from heating with wood pellets.”

Newtown and Distinguished Professor Emeritus and former Dean Arthur G. Hurlbut filed the grant to demonstrate how pellet boilers could replace conventional fuel-oil furnaces. Fuel oil costs have spiked recently and can cost in excess of $4 a gallon in some areas. It would take approximately $1.70 in wood pellets to produce equivalent heat of a gallon of fuel oil, approximately 130,000 British Thermal Units (BTUs), according to Hurlbut.

“We are setting up three boiler systems as demonstration sites at the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Canton,” Hurlbut said. “One of the units we are installing will automatically vacuum feed the pellets into a hopper, making it as convenient to maintain as a fuel-oil boiler.”

The grant was designed to deliver findings to the public, including the benefits of heating with pelletized wood over traditional cordwood. Wood pellets are manufactured locally by Massena-based Curran Renewable Energy and can be delivered in bulk to the end user, similar to current delivery methods for fuel-oil users. Bulk pellets are easier for a consumer to use than conventional cordwood, because they take up less space and the large-capacity machines require fewer refills.

The College has previously tested the buildings for energy efficiency using Building Performance Institute energy audits. All three structures will respond similarly to many homes in the North Country. Heating costs from previous years are also available, so the demonstration will show actual savings. The heating systems can be monitored remotely and data findings will be made public.

Newtown and Hurlbut previously studied the combustion of switch grass pellets in pellet-burning stoves based on a 2009 NYSERDA grant. Two journal articles were published based on the findings in Energy and Fuels an American Chemical Society publication.

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