The oil heating industry is entering a renaissance with a fuel that is cleaner, less expensive and more reliable than ever, Tom Santa, incoming chairman of the National Oilheat Research Alliance, told an industry gathering.
Santa, CEO of Santa Energy, Bridgeport, Conn., cited the adoption of ultra-low sulfur (ULS) heating oil as a primary factor in reducing heat exchanger contamination in oil-fired heating appliances, according to a NORA news release describing his comments. Burning higher-sulfur fuel results in build-up of such contamination, as well as reduced energy efficiency and added maintenance costs, Santa said in his talk, which was titled “Heating Oil—The Renewable Industry.”
With the reduction of sulfur, the incidence of fouling of heat exchangers is reduced by close to two-thirds, he said, citing research by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y.
Reduced-sulfur fuel is also better for the environment, as sulfur dioxide emissions are almost eliminated, making it on par with natural gas, Santa said, citing Brookhaven research. Additionally, the Brookhaven research shows that particulate emissions, a source of respiratory irritation, are also drastically reduced, again, on par with natural gas, Santa said.
The Brookhaven research showed that ULS fuel is more stable than higher-sulfur fuel, retaining its critical properties longer while in storage, Santa noted.
The clean nature of the fuel has added benefits for heating-equipment components outside the heat exchanger, Santa said. He referred to a study by his company, going back to 2006, that shows a significant decrease in fuel system failures. This greatly reduces service costs and improves reliability for the consumer, he said.
Data from the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, a non-profit based in Boston, show that blending renewable biodiesel into heating oil to produce Bioheat offers a clear and direct way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beyond what is possible with any other heating fuel today, including utility gas, Santa added.
Beyond ULS and Bioheat, Santa enumerated additional advantages of heating oil as a liquid fuel: it is high-density (high British thermal unit output for small volume), has diverse and resilient supply sources, is easy and flexible to transport (by truck, rail, barge, ship, and pipeline), is easily and safely stored, and has an efficient and robust delivery infrastructure in place.
Lastly, Santa noted the low cost of heating oil. Using prices in Connecticut published by the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection on October 3, 2016, Santa showed heating oil selling at retail for $2.33 per gallon while the natural gas price, adjusted to be equivalent with a gallon of oil, was selling at $3.00, negating any advantage for conversion and making oilheat “the economic choice.”
Santa concluded, “Now the industry is poised to reinvigorate itself and the industry must convey this to its own company employees, customers, public policy makers and the general public.”
Santa spoke at a Metropolitan Energy Conference luncheon on Nov. 1 in Connecticut, sponsored by the New York Oil Heating Association, the Oil Heat Institute of Long Island and the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association.
NORA, based in Alexandria, Va., was authorized by Congress. It is funded through a “check-off” program: $0.002 is collected at the wholesale level on every gallon of heating oil sold. NORA’s mission includes consumer education, professional education, improving energy efficiency and safety, and research.