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NORA Technical Workshop

Industry professionals, including representatives of the heating oil industry in Europe, exchange information about the latest developments in fuels and technology

By Stephen Bennett

A technical workshop hosted by the National Oilheat Research Alliance, led by its president, John Huber, featured a program devised by Dr. Thomas Butcher, NORA’s director of research. Presenters discussed topics in four categories: Advanced Burner Concepts; Ultra-Low Sulfur Heating Oil and Premium Fuels; Biofuels; and Advanced Equipment.

Below are some selected highlights.

 

STATUS OF THE BIODIESEL INDUSTRY

Sales of pure biodiesel in the U.S. exceeded two billion gallons in 2015, Steve Howell told attendees of his presentation “Status of the Biodiesel Industry” at the NORA Technical workshop, held in Newport, R.I.

“A lot of people don’t realize that the industry has already grown to the point where we’re selling over two billion gallons of B100,” used mostly in blend with on- and off-road diesel fuel or heating oil in the United States, said Howell, a partner in MARK-IV Consulting, Kearney, Mo., and chair of ASTM International’s biodiesel task force. ASTM is an organization that functions as an open forum for the development of international standards.

Howell said that installed production capacity in the U.S.—“plants already built that could produce biodiesel tomorrow”—is over three-and-a-half billion gallons.

“Our goal as an industry is to reach sales of four billion gallons of pure biodiesel—B100—by 2022,” Howell said in an interview.

“We’re planning to essentially double our industry volume,” said Howell, who is also senior technical advisor to the National Biodiesel Board. The Board has nearly 200 member companies, and represents the biodiesel and renewable diesel industry.

The U.S. uses somewhere between four and seven billion gallons of heating oil each year depending on the severity of weather and the fluctuation of prices, Howell noted.

“We’ve been growing the biodiesel industry nice and slow and doing what we need to do to make sure people don’t have any issues or problems,” Howell said. “We’re going to be a pretty substantial player in the fuels business by 2022.”

How much of the current output of pure biodiesel is used in heating oil and how much in diesel fuel isn’t known, because the Energy Information Administration “doesn’t track that,” Howell said.

Part of Howell’s presentation at the NORA Tech Workshop covered the results of a standard test designed to evaluate the effects of longer-term storage on biodiesel. The fuel is stored at 43 degrees Celsius; each week at that temperature corresponds, approximately, to one month of normal or typical storage, Howell said. Results showed that the fuel could be stored for up to three years without forming “any deleterious products of aging,” Howell said.

In 2015, after seven years of work, ASTM established a standard for B6 through B20. Now it is working on a standard for B21 through B100. “Doing all the technical work that’s necessary is going to take us several years,” Howell said.

Howell noted that Lambert Lucks of IWO, the Institute for Heating and Oil Technology in Germany, told attendees that Germany is aiming for an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.

“That’s where the policy is going, as far as burning liquid fuels in Germany,” Howell said. Here in the U.S. the approach is practically the reverse, he noted. “Our approach here is [for biodiesel] to be 50 percent of the market by 2030. Potentially 100 percent of the market by 2050,” he said. That requires starting now on making sure burners “work fine,” and ensuring that enough oils and fat will be available on the market, Howell said. NORA’s focus on renewable fuels helped it win reauthorization from Congress, Howell said. “We’re going to transform this industry from the existing fuels – petroleum-based, high-carbon, high-sulfur fuels to ULS fuels and to low-carbon renewable fuels.”

 

ADVANCED BURNER TECHNOLOGY

Presentations on advanced burner technology included one by Andrew Babington, vice president and general manager of Babington Technology in Rocky Mount, N.C. A burner the company is developing, adapted from a unit used for field cooking by the military, weighs about 11.5 lbs. and features dual atomizers. “In essence, Babington makes a spray by turning the nozzle inside out,” said the narrator of a video Babington showed to attendees of the NORA Workshop. A thin film of liquid fuel passes over the outside of the corrosion-resistant atomizing tips, and the resulting fine spray results in enhanced combustion, according to Babington. The air issuing from the atomizing tips is at a relatively low 15 psi, the company said. Excess fuel goes to a reservoir and is re-circulated. The burner works with B100 and a variety of other fuels, the company said.

In another presentation, Roger Marran, chief executive officer of Energy Kinetics, Lebanon, N.J., told attendees that advanced venting enables non-condensing boilers to achieve efficiency and energy savings comparable to, or even better than, condensing gas technology.

Direct venting or power venting are options for higher-efficiency non-condensing equipment that doesn’t have a high enough stack temperature to provide natural draft, Marran noted. But he called another method, dilution air venting, “The next generation in venting.” Marran said dilution air venting works equally well for sidewall or chimney venting of high-efficiency appliances.

He further noted that when equipment is operating at higher efficiency with lower temperatures, condensate can damage terracotta lining in a chimney, and stainless steel liner is not rated for that application either. For advanced, or dilution air venting, polypropylene piping works well, he said. It has a working temperature rating of up to 248 F, he pointed out, and is designed for positive pressure, “so we can use it in a chimney or sidewall vent application where we have forced draft.”

Marran recalled a Brookhaven National Laboratory report of some years ago that found a low-mass, thermally “purge-able” boiler with an AFUE of 87.5% out-performed natural gas modulated condensing boilers with AFUE ratings of 95%. That result highlighted an opportunity for the oil-fired non-condensing boiler to achieve a still higher AFUE and compete more effectively with other fuels, provided venting challenges could be addressed, Marran said.

“To get there we have to vent effectively, and that’s where dilution air comes in as a really good solution,” he said. Using outside air has proven effective, and is preferable to taking already warmed inside air for the purpose, he said.

“Running a three-inch polypropylene flex vent down a chimney, even if it has some dog legs in it, is a lot easier than running a five- or a six-inch stainless steel liner down,” Marran added.

Dilution venting can then be provided for non-condensing or condensing appliances, he pointed out. “So if you have a non-condensing appliance put in and twenty years from now somebody wants to put in a condensing boiler, the same venting system is probably going to be rated for it and work fine too.”

With dilution air venting, Marran said, “you can run the boiler at lower temperatures for a higher AFUE rating. You don’t have to worry about the issues with conventional venting—condensate or not enough draft.”

The ongoing reduction of sulfur content in fuel oil has facilitated dilution air venting, Marran noted. “This technology came out at the right time because the fuel got cleaner which means the vent system stays a lot cleaner.” And if cleaning is needed, the polypropylene piping can be taken apart, he noted.

Another benefit of conventional boilers is that they use familiar components such as Beckett and Carlin burners, and Taco and Grundfos circulators that technicians are accustomed to servicing, Marran said. “Everything on the boiler is conventional equipment,” he said. “You don’t need the special components that come with condensing boilers.”

The combination of all these factors allows Energy Kinetics 90+ Resolute conventional, non-condensing boiler to achieve 91% AFUE, plus an Energy Star “most efficient” rating, Marran said.

At that, Marran called AFUE “only a piece of the efficiency picture,” and not the most accurate indicator of efficiency or energy savings. “That’s what the FSA is about,” he said referring to the Fuel Savings Analysis calculator that has been developed by NORA. The Alliance recently released FSA 2.0, an updated version of the calculator. For more information about FSA 2.0, visit the website NORAweb.org/FSA.

(Editor’s note: Slides from the presentations at the NORA Technical Workshop, held Sept. 14 at the Viking Hotel in Newport, R.I., may be viewed at noraweb.org/workshop-2016.)

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