December 14, 2013

Wood stove decathlon highlights race for next-gen technology

Many new stoves likely will rely on catalytic burners, a technology that proved troublesome in the 1980s.

By Tux Turkel
Staff Writer

And the winner is ... the Ideal Steel Hybrid stove made by Woodstock Soapstone in West Lebanon, N.H.

For the wood stove industry, November’s Wood Stove Decathlon was a big deal. For months, the Alliance for Green Heat, an advocacy group for cleaner wood stoves, had been promoting the event and a $25,000 first prize. It had invited stove makers across the globe to compete in a contest meant to showcase the next generation in stove technology.

Last month, a dozen stove makers set up on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for five days of testing and judging on categories including overall performance, innovation and affordability, as well as particulate emissions and efficiency.

The group had hoped that the contest would highlight emerging automation in wood stoves, the idea of using oxygen sensors and onboard computers to control operations for maximum efficiency and minimum emissions. A few of those stoves entered and one, HWAM from Denmark, won for innovation.

But overall, masonry stoves that store heat in thermal mass, and stoves that used catalytic combustion chambers, which clean up harmful gases and particle matter, dominated the contest. One lesson, said John Ackerly, president of the alliance, is that more stove makers will need to use catalytic burners to meet proposed air emission standards from the federal government.

Catalytic burners were popular in the 1980s, but suffered performance and maintenance problems. Few stoves use them now, but Ackerly said the technology is greatly improved and more reliable.

The Woodstock Soapstone entry combines a self-adjusting air intake, a catalytic combustor and thermal mass. It achieved an emission level that would meet new federal standards. It sells for around $2,000.

Some stove makers, including Maine-based Jotul North America, say installing catalytic chambers will increase the price of a stove and lead to maintenance problems for owners. Their argument is similar to protests heard over the years from the automobile industry, Ackerly said.

“This happens every time there’s a new regulation and an industry says, ‘You’re going to put us out of business,’’’ he said. “But these new regulations could be in effect for many years, and we need something to improve air quality and put more efficient stoves in people’s homes.”

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:


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