Ongoing Marketshare War

Bioheat event highlights oilheat vs. natural gas competition
By Ron Kotrba | November 21, 2011

The Bioheat Northeast Workshop took place Oct. 11, and the group of panelists was a who’s who in biodiesel-blended heating oil. A recurring theme throughout the one-day event was the battle between oilheat and natural gas. Despite natural gas being marketed as cleaner and domestic, it is still a fossil fuel—one that consists largely of highly potent greenhouse gases. John Huber, NORA president, said, “It gets harder and harder to get hydrocarbons out of the ground. Methane is one of the world’s worst greenhouse gases, but the natural gas industry ignores that.” And despite all of the new natural gas Marcellus shale deposits recently found, that abundance of fossil fuel will be gone in 30 years. At a B12 level and higher mixed with ULSD, Bioheat can begin to outperform natural gas on all fronts, the speakers said. But to get there, a great body of work is underway (particularly at Penn State University, a study in year two) to determine what the legacy safe level is. Victor Turk with R.W. Beckett Corp. said a big driver in this study is the fact that up to 7 million oilheat furnaces exist in residential homes, and expecting those to be replaced to allow use of Bioheat blends greater than 5 percent is unrealistic. Removal of sulfur in addition to incorporating higher blends of biodiesel is a major part of becoming cleaner than natural gas. Tom Butcher from Brookhaven National Lab said 99 percent of the sulfur exits the flue as SO2, while 1 percent remains in the system as sulfuric acid and corrodes the heat exchangers. Carcinogenic particulate matter, sulfate particulates, is from sulfur as well. Removal of sulfur from heating oil plus zero-sulfur biodiesel will eliminate this issue. And after ASTM approves higher Bioheat blends, there is no guarantee the market will accept it. Therefore, leveraging the wealth of field experience as well as continued education and marketing—such as the huge New York City campaign Michael Devine with Earth Energy Alliance spoke of, which includes radio spots, bus wraps and much more identifying Bioheat as the Evolution of Oilheat—are critical components, and will be for years to come.

—Ron Kotrba

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