Bill McGrath: A pioneer in making electricity from a pellet boiler


Bill McGrath

In 2007, Bill McGrath built a thermoelectric pellet boiler that heated his home for almost 10 years. The story, however, starts in 1998, when Bill and a group of other students at Vermont Technical College entered the “American Tour de Sol” Solar Challenge, a solar car competition sponsored by DOE, not unlike the Wood Stove Design Challenge. The competition taught him about solid state technologies and the important role DOE competitions can play in promoting innovation. 


Building on his own experience and Shuji Nakamura’s discovery of commercially viable LED lighting, Bill helped start LEDdynamics in 2000, an LED circuit and lighting manufacturer. However, in the back of his mind he was also thinking about how thermoelectric generators (TEGs–pronounced T-E-G, like L-E-D) could solve a major problem with pellet stoves and boilers: when the electricity goes out, unless you have a big battery or generator, the pellet stove stops operating.

Bill and his colleagues made the TEG powered pellet boiler from an old oil boiler, a washing machine and other various knickknacks. McGrath recalls turning the fire chamber of the old oil burner into a pellet stove, using metal cat food dishes from the dollar store as burn pans, and using an old washing machine as the hopper by shaping it into a funnel that connected to a DC auger that fed the pellets into the burn pans. The hot water coming from the boiler heated one side of the thermoelectric modules, while the cool water that circulated through the home’s radiator system cooled the other side of the modules. This temperature differential (known as the Seebeck effect) generated the electricity to power the auger, blowers and water pump for the heating system.  The thermoelectric pellet boiler produced up to 60 watts and kept him and his family warm for over 9 years, even during power outages. One goal of the Design Challenge is to improve on Bill’s TEG boiler so that a thermoelectric wood stove or boiler can produce substantially more electricity to help power lights, recharge batteries and augment solar power.
After 9 years of heating Bill’s home and
making its own electricity, the home-
made boiler came out of the basement.


In 2013, Bill and his team created a thermoelectric energy generation division at LEDdynamics called TEGpro to share their expertise with everyone from large multinational corporations to small inventors. Surprisingly, the division has found many opportunities for their thermoelectric technologies’ in the petroleum and gas industry. With miles of piping, this industry has a large demand for TEG powered pressure sensors and wireless devices that measure liquid and gaseous chemicals and fuels as they move through the pipeline.  TEGpro is working with the petroleum and gas industry as an “intermediate step” until they can fund projects that hold larger implications for growth in thermoelectric wood and pellet stoves and boilers. 

TEGpro’s customers are already demonstrating the advantages of thermoelectric technology in residential applications across the world. For example, Bill references many instances of users in Alaska and Canada transferring wood stove heat through their cabins by putting TEGs on their central boiler systems, providing them a critical source of electricity without having to use a generator. 

Bill expects TEGs’ trajectory to be like what he experienced with the rise of LEDs since his start at LEDdynamics. Today’s modern LED light was discovered by Shuji Nakamura in 1994, who received the 2014 Nobel prize in physics for his work. Like the pre-Nakamura LEDs, Bill recognizes that the cost and efficiency of thermoelectric generators remains a challenge, but he believes that thermoelectrics will become as commonplace as LEDs.  With events like the Wood Stove Design Challenge, he is optimistic for the future of TEG power generation. However, commercializing energy alternatives like LED lights and solar power needs support from government agencies like DOE to fund the university research and competitions that can make TEGs as common as LEDs.

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Fourth Wood Stove Competition to focus on automation and electricity generation

Today, the Alliance for Green Heat announced the fourth Wood Stove Design Challenge, returning to the National Mall in Washington, DC in November 2018. 
The 2018 event will be free and open to the public and includes rigorous testing of the next generation of technology that can make wood stoves consistently cleaner, more efficient, easier to use and, like solar energy, a renewable source of electricity.
The fourth Wood Stove Design Challenge is modeled after the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Solar Decathlon, a competition between teams from universities worldwide to design more efficient and cheaper residential solar power.  Like the Solar Decathlon, the Wood Stove Challenge also attracts teams from around the world and focuses energy and resources on innovation and improved performance.  The stove competitions have been in partnership with the DOE Brookhaven National Lab, the New York State Energy Research and Development Administration (NYSERDA), the US Forest Service and others, the Osprey Foundation, among others. 
Participants will compete in two events:  One is to automate the wood stove with 21stcentury technology like sensors and WIFI-enabled controls that improve combustion efficiency, reduce air pollution and improve ease of use.   The second competition will focus on thermoelectric wood stoves that generate electricity to power lights, cell phones, and WIFI-enabled controls. Thermoelectric generators are similar to solar PV systems except they turn heat instead of light into electricity.  When integrated with a residential solar PV system, a thermoelectric wood stove and battery power system, like the TESLA Powerwall, could effectively double the wintertime output of solar PV system in areas like northern United States, Canada and northern Europe.
Wood stoves are still used by 30 – 60% of homes in hundreds of rural and suburban counties around the country.  Yet, the technology revolution that has swept household appliances in the last 20 years has by-passed wood stove technology. 

Teams in the 2018 stove challenge will be competing for up to $ 50,000 in prizes.  The teams and exhibitors will also have a chance to showcase new technology on the National Mall just blocks away from the Department of Energy, the US Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. 
“This is a chance for students, back yard inventors, and wood stove manufacturers to re-invent this age-old technology for today’s environmentally conscious and time-conscious consumer,” said John Ackerly, founder of the Wood Stove Competition and President of the Alliance for Green Heat.  “An affordable, smart wood stove is achievable and could help millions of families reduce their reliance on gas and oil while significantly reducing  pollution,” Ackerly added.
“This is the first Wood Stove Challenge to promote wood stoves that generate electricity to power everything from a cell phone to an entire home.  Thermoelectric wood stoves, when integrated with solar PV systems and home batteries like the TESLA Powerwall, have the potential to make solar energy more affordable, reduce air pollution, and pave the way for a more sustainable energy future, “according to Ken Adler, Senior Technology Advisor at the Alliance for Green Heat and formerly with the U.S. EPA.
Previous Stove Design Challenges brought innovative stoves and a diverse array of stove and energy experts together on the National Mall in 2013, Brookhaven National Lab in 2014 and 2016.
Further details about participating and competing in this competition will be available late March, 2017. For more information about the  2018 competition, contact John Ackerly at jackery@forgreenheat.org. For inquiries specific to the electricity production category, contact Ken Adler at kadler@forgreenheat.org.
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The Alliance for Green Heat promotes modern wood and pellet heating systems as a low-carbon, sustainable and affordable energy solution. The Alliance works to advance cleaner and more efficient residential heating technology and hosts international stove design competitions to accelerate innovative stove technology.  Founded in Maryland in 2009, the Alliance is an independent non-profit organization and is tax-exempt under section 501c3 of the tax code.

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Alliance for Green Warmth to undertake wooden stove alter out evaluation for West Penn Electricity Sustainable Energy Fund

March 22, 2016 – The Alliance for Environmentally friendly Warmth acquired a $ fifteen,600 grant from West Penn Energy Sustainable Energy Fund (WPPSEF) for a wooden stove adjust out evaluation.
The grant money will be utilized to suggest alternatives for plans that remove present older stoves, and substitute them with new, wood burning appliances that fulfill or exceed the U.S. Environmental Defense Company (EPA) 2020 New&nbspSource Efficiency Requirements wooden heater restrictions.&nbsp This kind of a software must also consist of a measurement and verification ingredient that ensures existing wooden stoves are taken off, taken off the market, and disposed of.

In addition, the venture will check out the integration of a wood stove modify out system into existing funding or incentive packages, as properly as a household vitality performance software that will drastically minimize wooden smoke emissions and deal with home ease and comfort and air high quality security worries.
“Woody biomass is an plentiful renewable warmth feedstock which has been employed by generations to offer low-value heating for residences throughout Pennsylvania. &nbspWPPSEF seeks to much better comprehend how older wooden burning stoves can be changed by point out-of-the art stoves that fulfill or exceeds EPA’s 2020 New Supply Performance Specifications even though making certain the outdated stove is removed from the marketplace.&nbsp WPPSEF is striving to build a price-effective plan that support homeowners exchange their old wood stove and although enhancing neighborhood air top quality and residence comfort” suggests Joel Morrison, Director of the WPPSEF.
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The Alliance for Eco-friendly Heat encourages present day wooden and pellet heating programs as a minimal-carbon, sustainable and inexpensive energy solution. The Alliance operates to progress cleaner and much more productive household heating engineering, particularly for reduced and center-cash flow households. Launched in 2009, the Alliance is an impartial non-profit group and is tax-exempt beneath part 501c3 of the tax code.
The West Penn Energy Sustainable Strength Fund (WPPSEF) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that invests in the deployment of sustainable strength systems that gain West Penn Electricity ratepayers in Pennsylvania. WPPSEF investments are targeted in a few broad groups:
ü&nbsp Deployment of sustainable and clear vitality systems
ü&nbsp Deployment of vitality effectiveness and conservation systems and
ü&nbsp Facilitating financial growth, environmental betterment, and community training as they relate to sustainable strength deployment in the WPP services location.
Visit http://www.wppsef.orgfor additional data.

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Lowered buying electricity could guide to more reliance of wooden to warmth houses

Median household income has declined four.four% since the official end of the recession in 2009, and is 6% decrease than when we went into the economic downturn in 2007. This enduring reduction in the buying power of the American buyer may possibly guide to a continued boost in the use of wood and pellets, as far more Individuals seek out cheaper alternatives to oil, propane, and electric powered heating.
Source: The Washington Put up. Fletcher, Michael.
“Four years soon after finish of economic downturn, incomes continue being depressed
It is probably that the surge in wooden heating amongst 2000 and 2010 was partly because of to decreased purchasing energy and task loss. For the duration of that time, wooden and pellets have been the quickest increasing heating gasoline in America. States in which unemployment was the maximum usually observed even greater expansion in wood heating.
New studies show that reduce cash flow families have locked in that decreased purchasing electrical power considering that the stop of the recession. Cash flow progress in America above the past ten a long time has disproportionately long gone to the leading and quite best earnings groups. These income groups might be putting in substantial-conclude out of doors kitchens and fireplaces, but they seldom use wood or pellets as a major heating resource. Relatively, the reduced cash flow teams are a lot more probably to count on wooden as a main heating gas, in accordance to Census Bureau figures.
The extended-term diminished purchasing electricity of Us citizens is also probably contributing to the expansion in the revenue of considerably less high-priced wood stoves such as those offered at big box stores.&nbsp Industry specialists say income of wooden and pellet stoves at huge hardware chains has developed substantially in the very last 5 many years.&nbsp It also might be foremost to a lot more revenue of quite inexpensive stoves that are exempt from EPA emission expectations.&nbsp And, it is likely top to more family members continuing to count on more mature stoves, rather of upgrading to more recent, cleaner and more efficient stoves.
Inflation modified median home revenue is now about $ 52,000, in comparison to about $ 56,000 before the recession. What is notable is that while unemployment carries on to fall, from a substantial of 10% to seven.5%, median cash flow has not risen.&nbsp Energy costs consider a much even bigger chunk out of the incomes of households who are under the median income range, leading to strength insecurity and decreased use of HVAC methods.


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Pellet Boiler Also Helps make Enough Electricity to Electricity Residence

Austrian company OkoFEN has brought to marketplace the very first household electricity making pellet boiler, the Pellematic Sensible_e. The boiler makes use of a pellet-condensing module from an before pellet boiler design, the Pellematic Wise and outfitted it with with a Microgen Stirling Motor. The motor employs a heated/cooled helium hydraulic system. The consequence of these two systems is a exclusive boiler that is capable of outputting fourteen kW (47,770 Btu/h) of thermal power and one kW of electricity.
The Pellematic Wise_e can help save households’ income on equally heat and electrical energy payments. Switching from oil, propane, or electrical energy to pellets typically results in substantial savings. The warmth is employed for area heating of the dwelling area and domestic very hot h2o generation. Additionally with the included Stirling Engine, the electrical energy you make in your own residence can offset element of a home’s regular monthly electricity bill. A full load of 24 several hours can create 24 kWh of electrical power at 1kW.
At 24 kWh per working day, the Pellematic Sensible_e could produce enough electrical energy for most or all of a home’s average everyday electrical energy needs. Nonetheless, in get to produce this electric power, the boiler need to operate at total potential, which can develop a considerable amount of excessive warmth. The surplus heat may be saved whilst the electric power is even now produced but even with the heat storage abilities, some of the heat may possibly be dropped, and the effectiveness of the boiler falls. For the Pellematic Smart_e to meet up with the electric power needs of a property, it would have to lengthen much over and above the heating demands of that home.
“The concern is the big 14:1 ratio amongst thermal and electrical power on this unit, and the (very likely) slim output curve,” explains Norbert Senf, one of the judges for the Wooden Stove Design and style Obstacle, “In a thermal electricity making station, you get about a 2.5:1 ratio.”
Even though it is possibly not the most successful when it will come to making electricity, OkoFEN’s revolutionary boiler demonstrates the possible of this hybrid technological innovation. The achievement of this solution is most likely to lead to additional sector advancements to manufacture and distribute pellet boilers able of generating even greater amounts of electrical energy.
For more info verify out OkoFEN’s web site listed here
Also, their FAQ website page right here


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