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Open: NORA Research & Education Center

A new center is the site of training classes and research into fuel oil and equipment

By Stephen Bennett

The NORA Research & Education Center opened in Plainview, N.Y., where research activities will be under the direction of Dr. Tom Butcher, and education programs will be under the direction of John Levey.

Established by NORA in conjunction with the New York Oil Heating Association in New York City and the Oil Heat Comfort Corp., a technical training subsidiary of the Oil Heat Institute of Long Island, based in Hauppauge, N.Y., the center occupies approximately 3,500 square feet in an office-industrial park. It features lab space and classrooms, equipment for students and trainees to work on, and a conference room. The three associations took a five-year lease with an option to renew for five years, and another option for five years after that, according to John Huber, president of NORA, who  said the rent was approximately $50,000 per year, shared among the associations.

Levey, a partner in Oil Heat Associates, a Long Island-based group of oil heat and propane consultants and educators, said that training programs held at Suffolk County Community College in Selden, N.Y., for more than ten years were now being conducted at the new center.

Kevin Rooney, CEO of OHILI, in an interview at a reception at the opening of the center, said of Levey, “John is really the person who put all this together.” Rooney said that the center will allow greater flexibility to schedule training at times that are convenient for participants.

Butcher said the lab “is basically set up to enable efficiency in emissions studies as well as fuel quality studies.” First on the research agenda is a round of field sampling of fuel in residential tanks, as well as further up the chain, as a “health check,” Butcher said. “We did a limited amount of this in the past with biodiesel in the mix and now it’s time that we take another really good look at it.”

The field sampling is meant to help determine the stability of the fuels, among other things, Butcher said, including: “What impact has this transition to biodiesel had on the quality of the fuel that we’ve got out there? We think we know how much biodiesel is in the fuel but how much biodiesel is really in the fuel? What’s the acidity? What’s the particulate content?”

The research is expected to be useful not only to fuel oil marketers, but to equipment manufacturers as well, Butcher noted. When manufacturers are designing equipment for use with biodiesel, for example, “What limits should we put on the fuels?” Butcher said. “We could go with the specification fuel – and that’s probably the easiest way to go, but if the fuels that are actually in the field are a little different, [manufacturers] ought to think about that when designing the equipment.” The “specification fuel,” ASTM D396, incorporates ASTM D6751, the spec for B100, Butcher noted.

Also high on the research agenda is the efficiency of tank-less coil boilers. NORA is planning to partner with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, headquartered in Albany, N.Y., to develop a best practices guide for tank-less coil boilers, Butcher said. The research will examine the factors – insulation, heat exchangers, advanced control concepts and new configurations – that are seen as having potential to enhance efficiency. “We’re using that project to help us plan the layout of the lab,” Butcher added.

Another upcoming project with NYSERDA involves a best practices guide for the integration of next-generation, high-performance heat pumps, “especially these cold-climate mini-splits, with oil-fired heating systems,” Butcher said.  The project is meant to determine under what circumstances – what parts of the heating season – does it make sense to use a heat pump, and what parts of the heating season is it better to use a boiler, Butcher said. For example, during summer, it is probably better to use a heat pump because they can cool, Butcher said. “If you look at the spring and fall, those swing seasons, when the load is really light, heat pump performance is better, certainly, than it is under cold conditions.” During the colder part of the winter, Butcher said, “the efficiency of the oil-fired hydronic heating system – including domestic hot water – gets to be really good because the load is high, so it’s operating in a good mode.” That leads to considerations of the logic that could be used for an animated control that could switch from one system to the other, Butcher said.

The reception to mark the opening of the center was held on April 13. “The fact that we’ll be able to do a lot of our research in-house,” and “having the lab fully integrated with the education programs there will help keep the research focused on real-world issues,” Huber told Fuel Oil News in an interview earlier this year. “This will allow us to do more and [make] quicker responses to the industry’s needs for research,” Huber said. “I think it’s going to be really good for the industry.”

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