NS farmer has an answer to energy and greenhouse gas problems

Heather Jones
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A Pictou County, Nova Scotia farmer has come up an answer to soaring energy prices and its growing in his fields.

A Pictou County, Nova Scotia farmer has come up an answer to soaring energy prices and its growing in his fields.

Gus Swanson has created the Waterside Hot Water Hay Pellet Furnace.

The farmer, who has also designed and built a furnace to burn large round bales, says hay is a renewable resource thats sustainable and economical. Two acres of hay will heat a home for the winter. Four per cent of the land in Canada can produce enough hay to heat every home in Canada.

The low moisture content of hay pellets increases its burn efficiency and it burns as cleanly or cleaner than any fossil fuel. And theres no smoke.

While wood stoves release 45 grams of particulate an hour, Swanson says the emission from hay pellets is 1.2. The EPAs standard is 7.5 grams.

Research has been conducted on burning hay and grass pellets at Cornell University and other institutions, but none of their engineers could solve the heavy ash problem.

Hay contains sand and potassium chloride and its ashes are heavy, Swanson explains. When its burning, the sand turns to glass thats an inch thick. It builds up like a lump of lava rock. It builds up in the pot and puts the fire out. I had to find a way to break the glass back into sand.

In the last year he threw away 10 different burn pots before he manufactured one with an ash breaker that worked. Enough air is circulated in the burn pot to keep the fire going but it doesnt pick up the fly ash.

The Waterside Hay Pellet Furnace is 45 inches tall about one foot in diameter. It burns 50 to 125 pounds of pellets a day and puts out 30,000 to 190,000 BTUs an hour. One pound of hay is equal to 8000 BTUs.

When I first put the hay pellets in the furnace, within five minutes it was burning at 500º. Within seven minutes it reached 1000º. I turned it down, set it to boil hot water (212ºF) and four hours later I looked and there were no ashes.

He says what little ash that is left should be emptied once a month and the furnace cleaned once a year.

The hay pellet furnace will be efficient operating inside or outside a building. Its 4-inch chimney can be put through a wall and vented out or it can be hooked into a regular chimney. The heat stays inside.

The hopper holds 180 pounds of pellets. The entrepreneur believes eventually hoppers will be set up so the pellets can be blown in.

Swanson thinks his new furnace can be a viable source of much needed cash for the financially strapped agricultural community. I want to see the farmers be able get their hay land back into production, instead of growing bushes.

Farmers who get about $30/ton for hay now if they can sell it should be able to sell it for pellets at $100 a ton. Swanson believes consumers will be charged $200.

One ton of hay pellets is equivalent to $700 worth of oil.

He says, Short green grasses are not good for fuel. But if the farmer lets his hay field go until the end of August it will dry perfectly. If it gets rained on, it doesnt matter, once its dried out, it can be made into pellets.

Swanson says reed canary grass is probably the best crop for hay pellets. It grows on marginal land and in wet soil. Most farmers can harvest four-five ton per acre.

Reed canary hay pellets emit 90 per cent less CO2 than heating oil, propane or natural gas. And thats good for the environment. Every 50 acres of reed-canary grass burnt as hay pellets in a hay pellet furnace prevents the emission of 1800 tonnes of CO2.

A Musquodoboit company will compress hay pellets for the furnace. Firms in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have also signed on to provide the product.

Swanson received a grant from Nova Scotia Agri-Futures to assist in patent and ULC expenditures.

He says the Waterside Hot Water Hay Pellet Furnace will be approved by the ULC by October. He estimates theyll sell for between $5,000 and $6,000.

Swanson believes, This furnace will have a direct benefit effect in reducing greenhouses gas and global warming.



Organizations: Cornell University, Nova Scotia Agri-Futures

Geographic location: Canada, Pictou County, Nova Scotia Musquodoboit New Brunswick Prince Edward Island

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  • John Beals
    July 19, 2011 - 07:06

    Very interesting article. Last fall I purchased a small pellet mill from an American company with the intention of producing enough wood pellets to heat my home for the winter. Being a novice at this I soon realized that coming up with the exact formula for production was extremely difficult. (moisture content, binder,etc.) This spring, after reading your article started to experiment with hay and had very good luck with a high production output and the pellets burn well in my Harmon P61 stove. I do have some concerns with regard to the ash content. It is very high. I have to empty the ash pan much more often with the hay pellets made from timothy /alfalfa. I am also still working on a process to reduce the hay down to the required size for processing, as it needs to be very fine. I would like to try making pellets from reed canary grass as there is an abundance of it in my area but the local farmers have concerns over the impact of processing this heavy grass might have on their equipment. Any views would be appreciated