• Tag Archives Green Energy
  • HYDRONIC (FHW) HEATING OPTIMIZED – “Going Back To Nature?”

    A primary tenet of Industrial Engineering is: To properly justify a process change you first optimize the existing process, then define the proposed process and make your CBA’s (Cost-Benefit-Analyses) for both. From weighing these you will then derive your best course of action. Speaking from painful experience as a Manufacturing Process Engineer, you will make this mistake only once. Somewhere in a dark corner of a semiconductor facility (or hopefully a scrap pile) lies my personal ill-advised, sophisticated process equipment humiliation!

    The makings of similar embarrassments are appearing within the hydronics heating industry. Hydronic component suppliers can be placed into three primary groups: boiler, distribution and radiation providers. They correspond to the three basic elements of the hydronic heating process. Component suppliers define the scope and applications of their products within a heating system, but that’s all. History and physics now become excellent teachers.

     A century ago there were two competing water-based energy heating methods, Gravity Hot Water and Steam. Both were based upon the natural (gravitational) convection attribute of water in the liquid or the vapor state, respectively. Energy distribution from a boiler to radiation required no external energy, only variation of the fuel supply ….. more heat, more fuel. Powered burners and thermostats were added for control. Pumps (circulators) doomed gravity water by adding zone management while reducing costs. Thus the modern hydronic heating system evolved.

    I’ve had the benefit of “playing with pipes”, beginning as a teenager within our family heating business for over 65 years while pursuing a paralleled hi-tech engineering career. (You can’t raise ten kids even on an engineering day job.) So while doing hydronic work “on the side”, so to speak, hydronic evolution followed me. My “engineering hat” always questioned why natural convection shouldn’t be an asset rather than a flow-checked nuisance. The old “gravities” were so simple!

    Post-engineering “non-retirement” provided time to aggressively play with hydronics. My “motor head” also makes me analogize heating systems with automobiles, i.e. the boiler being a pure “heat engine” with air, fuel and ignition for example. So when the delta-t circulator came along, there’s the “automatic transmission”. Now what can we do with the drive-line (distribution)? Can we re-evolve the Model T Ford car as a hydronic “Model Delta-T Appliance” by incorporating natural gravity convection into delta-t distribution? Well, we can and we have …..

    The old Gravity Heating System featured a large boiler, proportioned larger piping and radiation, typically all cast iron and pipe. They were skillfully defined and installed, used no distribution energy and lasted almost indefinitely, a tough act to follow. Its modern contemporary uses a much smaller (albeit more efficient) boiler, features multiple, circulated zones with smaller piping and radiation. Arguably it trades off fuel efficiency and comfort convenience for some increased distribution energy and “sophistication”.

    The sophistication referred is almost entirely within the distribution element of hydronic heating systematization.This is the consequence of a component-driven marketplace, as prior mentioned. The contemporary build-in-place method of system installations relegates hydronic interconnection of boiler to radiation in particular as “The Plumber’s Playground” wherein there are few rules and little consequence. Every system differs in a similar application, and therefore all perform differently in practice.

    If the objective is to provide overall hydronic system energy efficiency including electrical power consumption, freelancing must be both qualified and quantified in practice. Redefining near-boiler piping to optimize natural (gravity) convection with the boiler and integrating a delta-t circulator to refine hydronic delivery dramatically reduces distribution material and energy usage. Our now-patented “appliance” exhibits a typical 8 to 13 Watts total distribution energy usage while heating, over 90% reduction depending upon the contemporary configuration. Coupled with a high-mass, cast-iron boiler to enhance gravity operation, it also exhibits a thirty-plus year economic and operating life, twice or more that of low-mass, condensing units.

    Further gravity convection enhancement is available within the appliance-to-zone interconnects. The “level & square, pipes everywhere” approach does not fly in a gravity world. Minimized, pitched piping to simple series and split perimeter radiation loops are ideal. Full port valving if necessary and fewest 90° fittings further contribute to minimizing head pressures and thus distribution energy consumption. It won’t win a beauty contest, but it will win the race.

    Our 2,700 sq. ft. personally built (1970) raised ranch home has been our gravity test stand. An indoor wood boiler was convection-coupled to the cast-iron, flow-checked supply and circulator returned 3-zone “oiler” back in 1975. Multi-mode, multi-fuel operation also permitted completely unpowered, manually adjusted flow check wood gravity convection heating. As an example some years ago up here in “Frostbite Falls, NH” we were powerless from a severe ice storm for 10 days. A mere inconvenience for us ….. just feed it wood and adjust the valves.

    We currently have a series of up to six-year installed appliance “Beta Sites” that have now aggregated over twenty-five years service with no system-related calls! Two oil-contamination incidents did occur and last year a power line short-circuit blew out every control on a system. Our appliance is comprised of all standard, domestic trade components, so it was restored within the day.

    Our “appliance economics” haven’t been mentioned but are profound. Very significant complexity, material/labor content reduction and extended operating life vs. traditional architecture eclipse contemporary materials and methods. This observation was similarly but subtly affirmed in the 2019 Annual Boiler Report by several contributors opining that in effect it’s still hard to beat the economics of a well designed and installed cast iron boiler system. Their commentary and our natural (gravity) convection appliance development experience confirm that the existing, i.e. the “pre-condensing” process has yet to be optimized, to our potential peril. But try to find trade journalism and process development efforts to the contrary!

    So, is history due to repeat? That is, will a hydronic “Model Delta-T” displace this industry’s “Carriage Makers”, or will there be yet another technical “skeleton” in my closet?


  • BIOHEAT® – “What shade of green” energy?

    Bioheat® is a blend of synthetic and distilled petroleum compounds being marketed as a “green fuel” alternative to traditional #2 Heating Oil. Functionally it is nearly identical to its transportation fuel equivalent, biodiesel. The two have been historically interchanged as a diesel fuel under controlled conditions, to the chagrin of regulators. Hence heating oil is dyed red to distinguish it from its “twin” and prosecute users to recover the taxes avoided.

    Bioheat® is currently labeled as B2, B5, B20 and B100, indicating the maximum percentage of synthetic “bio-material” content in each. You may be receiving B2 or possibly B5 without identification or knowledge, but the effects, both positive and negative, must be noted.

    Heating fuel oil is a less than ideal combustion product. It has contaminants included that reduce its operating efficiency, the primaries being nitrogen and sulfur. The “Specific Heat” of nitrogen effectively “steals” heat, reducing the combustion temperature. Sulfur generates less desirable combustion byproducts in sulfurous oxides that reduce atmospheric quality. Thus these “bio-products” are marketed as having a lowered sulfur content to improve our air quality. However, sulfur has a very desirable attribute that must be compensated.

    Sulfur is a natural lubricant that enables simplified design and operation of pump pressurized transportation and heating fuel delivery systems. Low-sulfur fuels reduce lubricity with predictable results ….. ask any older diesel trucker! We had a GMC P-30 Service Van at the time that “biodiesel” was being introduced. Our fuel supplier did not advise his customers of the change. One fill-up was all it took ….. a ruined fuel distributor and injector pump. We scrapped the vehicle!

    With the introduction of Bioheat® there is the presumption that the heating trade will incur similar introductory pains to biodiesel. This week we received a “New Product Notice” from The Beckett Corporation, the preeminent Heating Oil Burner Manufacturer, of a “Bioheat® Retrofit Kit” for their standard burners. They emphasize that B20 Fuel Grade Or higher) has still not yet been UL Approved, but their field issues prompt a fix for up to B20 only!

    Bioheat® and Biodiesel Fuels feature low sulfur content as promoted. They do not publicize reduced lubricity, nor the corrosive effect upon copper, nor the “cleansing effect” upon fuel storage and transmission components. The “Bioheat® Retrofit Kit” includes a new Suntec® Stainless Steel Fuel Pump and a Stainless Steel Pressure Delivery Line. What it does not address is the release and packing into all filters of fuel tank and line debris by its chemical “scrubbing”. To quantify the monetary impact we quoted the “Kit” with our Trade Supplier. In our New England Area we estimate a $250+ billing, installed. If it doesn’t get installed prior to the fuel changeover, a series of unexpected service events are predictable.

    Further suspicion must be directed to the lesser concentration cleansing effect of Bioheat® such as B2 to B5, not currently regulated. Older fuel tanks and systems in particular are susceptible to sludge accumulation that will be affected by any bio-concentration. The resultant will be accelerated sludge accumulation in both oil tank filters, supply lines, fuel pump screens, pressure lines and ultimately nozzle screens to operational failures. It falls to we trade servicemen to both advise our customers and monitor its effect on their system(s).

    All biofuel products directly address sulfur combustion products and their atmospheric degradation, a noble and necessary cause! However our emerging experience with a heating variation begs clarification of its effects and quantification of its costs. Our signalling the “Bioheat® Retrofit Kit” and its implications are only the beginning. Reviewing much of the available material from Bioheat® Promoters and suppliers, there is no economic impact, positive or negative, offered other than being “green”.

    The disallowing of any impact below B20 as stated in our view bears qualification.  Our development experience of The Delta-T ECM Hydronic (FHW) Heating Appliance (Patents Pending) has highlighted fuel quality and delivery as THE reliability factor in system operation. Our multiple “Beta Sites” are approaching twenty-five (25) system-years of aggregate, flawless system operation, marred by two (2) incidents of contaminated fuel delivery stoppages. Both were on replacement installations with prior existent oil tanks. We employ a Beckett NX (Low NOX) Burner exclusively. Unfortunately we cannot correlate these with a biofuel content, only that one incident was due to a mid-winter fuel drop issue. It becomes logically apparent that any biofuel content would have exasperated the situation. Our direct experiences have piqued our interest and commentary.

    To summarize Bioheat®:

    1. Bioheat® is a beneficial, environmentally “Green Fuel”.

    2. Its introduction and use bears operational and economic scrutiny, as it did with Biodiesel.

    3. The Consumer Economic Impact has not been quantified. The market deserves real numbers!

    4. Trade Personnel need to recognize its possible effects and adjust service maintenance to suit.

    Updated 01/19/2020 P.D.M., Sr.