Man, if you live in a house which uses a furnace to heat, wood pellet boilers are a really cool idea.

For the energy, they're roughly the same cost as natural gas, but natural gas is subject to silly ridiculous price swings and trees just aren't going to suddenly get more expensive.

And transporting natural gas is an ugly process, you need to freeze and compress it and use special ships to move it. Transporting wood pellets couldn't be any easier.

What I think drives the price action on energy like natural gas is the lack of producer diversity. There are a few countries who make a lot of gas and most countries make none.

Wood on the other hand is grown by practically everyone, and setting up pellet mills is a really fast endeavor. Compared to exploiting fossil fuel it's practically instant.

The only real negative side of it is that converting wood to pellets requires a fair amount of energy itself. So the ideal place to produce pellets is somewhere where there's "excess" electricity.

What's the advantage gained by converting it into pellets, rather than burning it as logs?

Standardization. Which enables automation. You fill a hopper with pellets, you turn it on and go to sleep and it keeps you warm.

There are wood boilers but they're super dirty because they need to somehow keep the fire going all of the time and then when you call for heat then they turn on a blower and make a mushroom cloud of smoke. That's your wood going up the chimney un-burned.

Wood pellets don't replace a wood stove, they replace an oil furnace.

@cjd @TMakarios There's a lot of good things about wood, but there are downsides. I'm not sure if there's enough to go around and emissions from it are pretty bad. Air quality sucks in an area where everyone is burning wood. Furnace designs can help with this somewhat. I've always wondered if we could grow enough dried algae pellets in the ocean and run them through modified coal plants.

@daniel @TMakarios
I seem to recall pellet stoves, in particular, being pretty clean. I think in the US they're allowed to be vented like dryers, without a chimney, so they must be quite low in CO emissions anyway.


@cjd @TMakarios They have come along way. The sulfur compounds are the worst, carbon emissions to me are basically net zero. Still, you see so much acreage burn every year in wildfires and I always think about how many homes that could have heated and burned more efficiently.

It sounds like a lot of this is quite location-dependent. Here near the middle of New Zealand, my wife and I seldom want overnight heating (the house keeps its heat well enough), and we'd want it even less if we double-glazed. It's windy here, too, so air quality isn't much of an issue, though I think there are regulations on the efficiency of newly installed wood burners.

@daniel @cjd
In Christchurch, a little closer to the South Pole, overnight heating is more attractive, and they've historically had problems with smog, so there are very strict regulations there regarding wood burners.

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