Book Review: An earth-friendly way to cut costs, maximize biofuels potential

What’s the most practical, nonpolluting, inexpensive way to heat a home or a business?

The Feel-Good Heat book, by Sheila Samuelson with Ed Williams of Century Farm Harvest Heat, offers an earth-friendly way to cut costs and maximize the potential of available biofuels. As the authors say, “Biomass is a localized, domestic energy supply…[which] has clear environmental advantages over fossil fuel use. Because bio-based fuels are localized, less energy is consumed in delivery to the customer… Biomass is a rapidly-growing piece of the U.S. energy portfolio, and recognition of its value and ability to provide economic, reliable alternative energy is on the rise.”

In a thorough explanation of a new American industry, we learn how corn and pellet stoves work and what it takes to operate them. We’re told, “Modern corn and pellet stoves are carefully engineered to burn granular fuel at a high combustion efficiency, the ability to produce useful heat, and are continually improving. There are stoves on the market today with combustion efficiencies as high as 99.7 percent.” The authors interviewed 25 people who have purchased corn stoves, the majority in rural areas. All were pleased with the products they are using, and a variety of stoves are available. But note: it is necessary to have access to a continuous supply of corn and be able to transport it. Continuous maintenance, though fairly simple, is a must—involving hauling 5-gallon buckets of corn to be fed into the hopper, cleaning out clinkers and disposing of ash. Moisture content of the corn also affects the heating efficiency.

Some degree of technical skill is required for initial installation and allowing for proper venting. Several stove owners noted that they had to work out a few kinks at the beginning, requiring some adjustment. You need to work out the logistics as well. Dave Jackson of North English, Iowa, explained: “I can purchase corn from the dealer where I bought the stove, or from a local farmer. I can pick corn up on the way home from work, which minimizes additional fuel used to transport the corn. An 18-gallon plastic storage container full of corn is kept by the stove at all times. I keep the operation fairly low-tech, placing five to 10 of these hard rubber containers in my pickup once every two or three weeks, when I go on a ‘corn run.’ The rest are kept in the storeroom until needed.” He also added, “For the last three full winters, I used between 100 and 125 bushels of corn each season to heat the house for the entire winter.”

All the stove buyers reported considerable savings on their heating bills over time. None of them would go back to gas heat. To find the right kind of stove to fit your needs, you have to consider the square footage of your house, and which areas need more heat and which need less.

Several biofuel industry experts were also interviewed, explaining what they hope to accomplish and where they expect the industry to progress over the next few years. The final interview is with Ed Williams, owner of Century Farm Harvest Heat, who is enthusiastic about the potential of the industry, both in improved technology and availability to the consumer. The book concludes with a glossary of terms and a list of biomass resources found in the book and where to contact them.

The Feel Good Heat: Pioneers in Corn and Biomass Energy is available from Ice Cube Press, 205 N. Front St., North Liberty, Iowa 52317, online at, phone (319) 626-2055, fax (413) 451-0223. Retail price is $16.95, 146 pages.

from the Aug. 22-28, 2007, issue

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