Alternative Fuel Fireplaces

Renewable fuel choices for a 'greener' heating system

Due to increasing awareness of environmental issues combined with rising energy prices, more and more people are interested in environmentally friendly fuel options for home heating and entertainment. Although wood burning fireplaces use a renewable fuel, many people see them as dirty, because their emissions traditionally included dirt, ash, and other particulate matter (PM) which are now regulated in many areas. In order to address these issues, the EPA Clean-burning Woodstoves and Fireplaces Program was implemented.

But there are other renewable fuels – wood pellets , corn, and even (denatured ethanol). All of these fuels are derived from plants, rather than from fossil sources. All of these fuels can be grown domestically, and in the case of wood pellets, the raw material already exists – it has only to be processed into the small pellet shape necessary for use in pellet-burning stoves and furnaces.

Different fuels provide different benefits. Since wood pellets are made of sawdust or other wood waste from existing industries, they serve as an inexpensive way to make use of what is essentially garbage. In addition, when trees or other plants grow, they store up carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air. When they are burned, the CO2 that is released is only what was present in the air before the plants absorbed it. As such, burning wood, ethanol, or other plant matter does not contribute any new carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which is believed to be at least partially responsible for global warming or climate disruption.

Gel fuels are typically a thickened ethanol that comes in a can, much like the cans used with fondue sets. These have the same environmental benefits as other ethanol-fuelled heating systems, but tend to have a shorter burn time of only an hour or two. In addition, gel-fuelled fireplaces tend to be less expensive than designer fireplaces that burn liquid ethanol. If you want to have an easily lit fire of a short duration, a gel-fuelled fireplace might be a good option for you. If inexpensive heat and a long time between re-fuelling is the main goal, you should consider a wood pellet stove or fireplace insert.

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