Imagine that the same technology used to power NASA’s Cassini spacecraft could be used in your own home, but run on renewable biomass rather than radioisotopes. Although you may not be planning a trip to Saturn’s outer rings anytime soon, thermoelectric generators—the power source Cassini used—can keep you warm during winter months and have the potential to generate enough electricity to power everything from your cell phone to part of your home. Generating electricity at this smaller scale can also complement residential-scale solar power and battery storage, diversifying energy sources and improving the security and reliability of Americans’ energy supply.
Yet, thermoelectric generators’ potential has largely gone unrealized, which is why the U.S. Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) has teamed up with the Alliance for Green Heat (AGH) to help fund the fourth Wood Stove Design Challenge and inject new life in this American-made technology.
Launched this past summer, inventors, universities, and manufacturers from across the globe are competing to design an integrated thermoelectric generator and wood stove that is optimized for both home heat and electrical power output. The other category of the competition is to build an automated wood stove, relying on sensors and microprocessors that enable consumers to “load and leave” and get maximum efficiency and minimum emissions.
BETO and AGH are already pleased to announce the initial round of finalists:
- “X” by MF Fire (Maryland, United States): MF Fire is a startup developed by two graduate students in the University of Maryland, College Park’s Department of Fire Protection and Engineering. They took home a prize in the 2013 Wood Stove Decathlon with a prototype of the Catalyst™, an app-driven, automated wood stove, engineered for consistent in-home performance. The team is returning this year with a highly automated stove design, X, which will make use of machine learning and novel combustion techniques to deliver a clean and unique fire.
- “Downdraft Rocket” by Aprovecho Research Center (Oregon, United States): Established in 1976, Aprovecho Research Center is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization that helps developing world organizations establish high-quality labs so they can test and improve their wood-burning stoves. Designed for heating and cooking in the developing world, their stove uses an improved, low-cost thermoelectric generator to produce 5 watts of power for lighting and charging cell phones and to be affordable in the developing world.
- “E-Stove” by Wittus-Fire by Design (New York, United States): Designed by German company ETE EmTech Engineering, the E-Stove is a living-room-based, micro combined heat and power (CHP) unit developed to produce electricity, heat, and hot water. American distributing partner Wittus-Fire by Design is currently working on certification and testing with the hopes of entering the market in mid-2018.
- “Kiwi 2.1 VcV” by VcV/Flamekeepers/Kiwi Stove Company (Auckland, New Zealand): The Kiwi 2.1 VcV controls air intake into wood stoves to deliver a more efficient fire that lasts longer and has a cleaner burn. It is also the first stove certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) 2020 New Source Performance standards using cord wood as the test fuel.
- “Lumburnator” by Stony Brook University (New York, United States): The Lumburnator is a research project undertaken by the Materials Science and Chemical Engineering Department at Stony Brook University, with the aim of building an exceedingly efficient wood-burning stove. The Lumburnator is a test stove built symmetrically to operate in either updraft or downdraft configuration. It features a novel firebox design coupled with an electronically controlled air-flow system and exhaust remediation technology.
- “Condens-E” by Maine Energy Systems (Maine, United States): Condens-E, which was developed by OkoFEN2 in Upper Austria and is being tested at Maine Energy Systems’ product assembly building in Bethel, Maine, is a CHP pellet-fired boiler system that generates up to 60 kilowatts (kW) of heat and up to 5 kW of electricity. Condens-E is the only pellet-fired micro CHP boiler system available in the world and can also be used to recharge electric vehicles.
- “The Continental” by George Washington University (District of Columbia, United States): Based out of George Washington University’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, this team is working with England Stove Works to make a liquid-cooled thermoelectric stove prototype.
- SBI International (Quebec, Canada): SBI International is one of the largest stove manufacturers in North America and the largest in Canada. They are designing and building an innovative mass market, electricity producing wood stove to be unveiled at the competition.
These teams will have a chance to showcase their revolutionary wood stove technology on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., from Nov. 9–14, 2018. The event will be free and open to the public and will allow finalists to engage with policymakers, industry, and experts in the renewable energy community.
Sound exciting? Even though the initial finalists have been chosen, it’s not too late to apply for a grant and join the competition! If you think you have got what it takes to revolutionize the wood stove industry, registration is open until Jan. 1, 2018.
The Wood Stove Design Challenge is a critical part of BETO's overall goal to develop revolutionary, sustainable bioenergy technologies to convert our nation's abundant biomass resources into renewable biofuels, biopower, and bioproducts. BETO will provide a total of $125,000 in funding to support technology that will allow millions of families to have access to affordable, efficient, and clean wood stoves. This is an important component of the growing bioeconomy.