Is There a Corn Burning Stove in Your Future?

The wood burning fireplace is a common feature in many homes around the country. They provide warmth and atmosphere to just about any room in the house. Dancing flames, glowing embers, the crackle of wood burning, and even the gentle hint of wood smoke make for a romantic and inviting setting. There is something about being near a warm fire on a cold winter’s night that enlivens the soul.

Apart from the charm and attractiveness of a fireplace, their more practical use is to burn wood to heat the home. An in-the-wall wood burning fireplace is not the most efficient way to heat a house. It may be fine to heat up the room it is in, but over 50% of the heat generated is lost up the flue. Fireplace inserts with blower fans can be used to bring more heat into the room.

The more effective method for full home heating is to use a free standing stove of some type. This opens up the possibility of using other sources of fuel. The rising costs of natural gas and fuel oil make alternative methods of home heating much more practical. Free standing stoves can burn wood, coal, manufactured pellets and corn. Biomass pellets, made up from wastes of sugar beet and ethanol processing, will be available in the future.

A wood burning stove, such as those made by Osburn, provide a cost effective means to heat an entire home. Constructed of quarter-inch thick steel plate and lined with firebrick, these stoves are air tight and excellent heating appliances. By using a series of baffles inside the stove, the smoke residues can be re-burned to cut down on harmful emissions. Wood burning stoves must be vented to the outside using their own chimneys or by venting into an existing fireplace chimney. The initial costs for Osburn models ranges from $1,000 to over $1,500 including the cost of a chimney system. One major consideration is the cost of wood in your area verses other kinds of fuels.

Compared to the venerable wood stove, a newer technology is a pellet burning stove. These can be either an indoor or outdoor type. The indoor models will burn compacted pellets of varying waste materials. This kind of stove is efficient and long burning. The pellets are feed into the fire box at a controlled rate and there is usually less pollution created due to burning characteristics. Pellets are more environmentally friendly than split wood since they are created from waste materials. Outside stoves burn pellets also, but for a different reason. The hear produced from these stoves is used to heat water. The heated water is cycled into the furnace inside the home. Heat is then transfered through an exchanger and blown into the home using the existing ducting system. Pellet burning stoves can cost two to three times as much as a wood burner. Again, the cost of pellet fuel as well as the initial stove cost needs to be taken into account.

Perhaps the most exciting and newest technology is the corn burning stove. Invented over 20 years ago by Carrol Buckner, this type of stove is on the verge of becoming the hottest must-have since the iPod. The list of advantages from burning corn are indeed impressive. A corn burning stove can be put anywhere in the house and only requires an outside fresh air vent. They emit no smoke; therefore no chimney is needed. The ash residue is minimal and can be used as fertilizer. They can burn for long periods and require little tending. The best advantage is that they burn corn. This is a highly renewable source of fuel. It is extremely easy to grow, harvest, store and transport.

The popularity of the corn burning stove has exploded over the last three years. There are new models becoming available as manufacturers scramble to keep up with expanding demand. One company with a big future is Bixby Energy Systems. They sell the Maxfire corn burning stove (see the article Heat Your House Cheaply for specific information) which currently produces about 50,000 BTU. This company plans to sell a 100,000 BTU model that will also include a heat-to-electricity converter that can be used to power your house. This stove would burn a new “biomass” pellet (as well as corn) that is made totally from waste materials of all kinds.

Bixby is backed by Bob Walker. He is the same guy that invented the Sleep Number bed sold through Select Comfort Corp. Sales of the Maxfire will be about $10 million this year. In 2007, sales are expected to top $40 million. That is phenomenal growth for a product that sells for an average of $4,000. As more units are sold and manufacturing costs come down, the corn burning stove will become more affordable for the average homeowner.

As long as the buyer of a corn burning stove has access to a steady corn supply, the savings in heating costs over the life of the stove make this option extremely attractive. Local farmers will benefit by selling corn directly for burning. The price of corn will become more stable because farmers can grow as much as demand calls for. Replacing other methods of home heating with corn burners will help the environment in numerous ways. They expel less pollution and less waste for starters. At current corn prices, and the fact that these stoves are highly efficient, the corn burner has an energy-cost advantage over the normal heating fuels of natural gas and heating oil.

These stoves are easy to install and run. With a glass window in the door, the look and feel of a real fireplace can still be experienced. The energy savings alone will be a strong reason for many people to consider using a corn burning stove as the main source of heat for their homes. This technology will continue to improve and eventually become a mainstream item in millions of homes. Corn can be grown much faster than a tree and is much cheaper to bring to market than natural gas. The corn stove movement could be a major force in the continuing battle to free this country from dependency on foreign oil. Corn-on-the-cob has suddenly become more than a buttery-sweet treat that is taken for granted.

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