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NORA is Back in Business

The National Oilheat Research Alliance has begun building a research and development agenda to be funded by the check-off program that was re-authorized by Congress.


NORA will be spending $3 million to $4 million per year on research, adding up to $15 million to $20 million over the next five years. That funding projection, by NORA, is based on the collection of two-tenths of one cent per gallon over the five-year span of the re-authorization.


Collection of the funds resumed on April 1 after a hiatus of more than four years, since February 2010, when the program’s previous authorization expired. In that interim, the industry was lobbying Congress, which re-authorized the program in February.


‘Our total R&D [spending] in 2015 will probably be $3.5 million,” said John Huber, president of NORA, which is based in Alexandria, Va. Of that total, approximately $2 million will be used to underwrite ‘pure research,” Huber said. The main goals of the research include: comparing fuel oil to competing energies; exploring how to improve fuel oil; the potential of Bioheat; and developing energy-efficient equipment and practices.


The remaining $1 million to $1.5 million will be distributed to state associations to support ‘technology transfer activities.” These could include sponsoring manufacturer outreach to inform dealers about a particular technology and how it works. ‘That could be part of our research, development and demonstration program,” Huber said.


The ‘pure research” is to be conducted primarily at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., but may also be undertaken at additional locations, such as a university ‘or with a manufacturer trying to develop new equipment,” Huber said. The specific subjects are being worked out now and should be decided on by December, with work beginning before February 2015–‘within a year of our enactment,” Huber noted.
Six categories for research were discussed in depth during a planning meeting June 3-4 at BNL that was hosted by the lab’s Dr. Thomas Butcher. In balloting, attendees accorded the categories the following order of priority: biofuels (27% of voters gave it top priority); field demonstrations/documentation (19%); low-cost, high-efficiency appliances (18%); controls/emerging technologies (14%); combustion/advanced burners (11%); and fuel quality (11%).


Research in each of the categories is ‘most likely” to be funded to some degree or another, Huber said. NORA Research Director Richard Sweetser assembled the recommendations into a ‘book.” Once the book is reviewed and corrections and additions are made, and the NORA board accepts it, ‘That’ll be our overall roadmap for the type of research we want to do,” Huber said.
In the fall NORA will issue a ‘program opportunity notice”–asking those in the industry to submit ideas or solutions or research projects based on the goals detailed in the book. The association’s R&D committee will review those submissions and enter into contracts for the best proposals. ‘If there’s a high-priority area that nobody responded to then we would probably actively solicit appropriate vendors to prepare proposals for us,” Huber added.


At the Brookhaven planning meeting attendees were assigned to discussion groups, each corresponding to one of the six proposed research categories. Afterward the leader of each group summarized its discussions and presented multiple possible research efforts. Here are highlights.


Biofuels
Technical and climate change information should be developed and conveyed to state energy offices and other stakeholders, the biofuels group said. Technical work should be done for an ASTM spec for blends higher than B20, the group suggested, as well as research into cloud points and cold flow.


Steve Howell, chairman of the ASTM Biodiesel Task Force, noted that cold flow differs by geography–a reason that ASTM doesn’t set cold flow parameters.


The biofuels group proposed goals of B50 use by 2030, and B100 use by 2050. Bob Hedden, education director of NORA and executive director of the Oilheat Manufacturers Association, suggested a more ambitious target: B100 by 2040. Hedden also suggested that NORA form ties with renewable fuel associations in the states.


Field Demonstrations/Documentation
Developing tools for tracking fuel use and fuel savings, and developing  technology for a virtual ‘smart meter,” to enable more efficient deliveries, would be worthy research projects, Roger Marran, president of Energy Kinetics, Lebanon, N.J., said on behalf of the discussion group.


Fuel savings analysis could be made more useful through integration with field performance, and making it usable on multiple platforms, including Windows, Mac and apps for smart phones, Marran noted. Providing education for building analysts in the Building Performance Institute, Malta, N.Y., would support the fuel oil industry too, according to Marran. He added that an emphasis on demonstration can help make the case for re-authorization of NORA ‘next time around.”


Low-Cost, High-Efficiency Appliances 
Researching use of high-production, gas-designed heat exchangers was suggested by this discussion group, along with analyzing tankless coil options for improved efficiency.


Also, Tom Tubman, executive director of the American Energy Coalition, said the group discussed development of low-cost, near-condensing boilers and ULS-specific heat exchangers for near- or full-condensing equipment.


Controls/Emerging Technologies
Combustion monitoring and better diagnostics on oil-fired units were two research goals suggested by this group, said John Bohan of R.W. Beckett Corp., North Ridge, Ohio.  A glossary of relevant terms, put into wide circulation, would support better communication among those in the industry. Wi-fi and apps for smart phones could be developed so that systems could ‘do more,” Bohan added.


Combustion/Advanced Burners
Research into, and development of, a B100 burner was proposed by this discussion group, headed by Butcher. A ‘mainstream unit” fired by B100 will be needed, Butcher told the meeting attendees. He added that B100 ‘could be a solution to environmental issues related to leaking tanks.”


Modulating burners and advanced atomizing concepts also need to be explored, Butcher said on behalf of the discussion group. Advanced atomizing, Butcher said, ‘is central to future burner and appliance concept development.”


Fuel Quality
A quick, low-cost method to assess fuel quality, along with creation of a best-practices manual and quality control programs were suggested by this discussion group. Establishing fuel handling and storage principles to avoid water contamination, and identifying characteristics of ULS heating oil and biofuel were also recommended.


As emerging issues related to ULS fuel, the group identified lubricity assessment and corrosion concerns. 
Speaking for the discussion group, Tom Santa, president and CEO of Santa Energy Corp., Bridgeport, Conn., noted two different types of fuel quality problems. One is that when fuel is short, ‘off-spec Russian cargo” comes into the market ‘and everything falls apart at that point.” The other is day-to-day variations in quality.


Responsibility for fuel quality needs to be pushed back to regional wholesalers and refiners, Santa said on behalf of the discussion group. Further, surveys are needed to measure fuel quality problems in oil-fired equipment.


Generally, greater turnover leading to less storage time results in delivered fuel that is fresher, Santa noted. The age of fuel affects filter change rates, Santa has found. He said that for many years he has tracked filter changes per 100,000 gallons delivered. Excluding routine filter changes, he has found that filter changes can range from eight to as many as 30 per 100,000 gallons delivered. ‘It’s directly related to the age of the fuel,” Santa said, pointing out that filter changes regularly peak in October when fuel in customers’ tanks is oldest, having been delivered in Spring and burned in the fall.


In Europe
For a European perspective, and for comparison to U.S. market trends, Christian Küchen, general manager of the Institute for Heating & Oil Technology in Germany, delivered an update on heating legislation in the European Union, along with highlights of developments in selected national markets.


The European Union has set a goal of a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, Küchen said. The EU is emphasizing efficiency of equipment and buildings to help reach that goal.


Seventy percent of new, installed boilers in Europe are condensing units, Küchen reported. Labels to identify high-efficiency boilers are scheduled to be introduced in the European market next year.


In Germany, heating oil sales are down 50% from twenty years ago. Part of the decrease is attributable to more efficient boilers, complemented with use of wood heat.


Germany switched to ultra-low sulfur heating oil over the past two years, Küchen said. Though the standard is less than 50 parts per million in practice it is less than 10 ppm, he said. The improved efficiency of oil-fired equipment, complemented with the use of alternative energy sources such as wood, results in longer storage times for heating oil, in some cases as long as two to three years, Küchen noted.


Denmark, with a population of approximately 5.6 million, and about 200,000 heating oil customers, has banned heating oil equipment for new buildings, Küchen said. The ban was implemented as a way to reach greenhouse gas emissions targets and to reduce dependency on imports, Küchen said.

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