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New technologies, new studies hold promise for future oil-heat savings

DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory : 31 July, 2005  (Technical Article)
The price of home heating oil is expected to skyrocket this season, perhaps to more than $2 per gallon. But researchers in the Combustion Equipment Technology Program at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory are working to improve fuel-oil efficiency to help homeowners and small businesses keep costs down.
During the past decade, the Brookhaven program has already saved an estimated $6 billion for the 11 million Americans who heat their homes with oil heat, seven million of which are in the Northeast. Future improvements in oil-heat technology currently under development at Brookhaven may help oil-heat customers save up to an additional $19.5 billion by the year 2010. Brookhaven's research is also leading to the development of ultra-low emissions combustion technologies that will help contribute to a cleaner environment.

Work at Brookhaven on heating equipment is sponsored jointly by the U.S. Department of Energy and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Ongoing research programs in Brookhaven's combustion equipment technology program include:

Fan-Atomized Burner, This oil burner, developed by Brookhaven Lab researchers, fires fuel at low input rates to match the smaller heating loads of well-insulated homes. It offers improved fue, and air-mixing for better performance and is now in the second generation of commercialization. Its features translate to about a five to ten percent improvement in efficiency over conventional burners. The new burner also reduces nitrogen-oxide emissions by as much as 30 percent. Heatwise, Inc., of Ridge, Long Island, has begun to commercialize the new technology.

Flame Quality Indicator, This electronic device monitors flame brightness in residential oil burners. It is designed to alert the homeowner when service is required weeks before the oil burner's primary control would normally shut down the system due to severe flame-quality problems. Thus, problems can be corrected quickly before they escalate and before the heat or hot-water supply is disrupted, thereby increasing convenience and efficiency. Currently, two companies, Honeywell Corporation of Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Insight Technologies of Bohemia, Long Island, are performing a 100-unit field study of an improved version of the flame quality indicator that was developed at Brookhaven about a decade ago. This system follows from a Brookhaven patented design that received an R&D 100 Award as one of the best 100 U.S. innovations in 1992. Brookhaven is providing technical support for these field tests.

Low-Sulfur Fuel - Brookhaven is conducting laboratory and field studies of low-sulfur fuels. Prior Brookhaven research has shown that sulfur is an important contributing factor in heat-exchanger fouling and efficiency degradation. The current research is aimed at determining benefits of long-term use of reduced-sulfur fuel. This fuel is already used in diesel trucks. Low-sulfur heating oil is expected to cost up to two cents more per gallon than conventional fuel oil, but shows promise of providing net savings to oil-heat customers through substantially reduced maintenance and cleaning costs.

Biofuels, Brookhaven has begun preliminary laboratory tests to determine if the use of fuels derived from vegetable oils, called biofuels, would be a viable alternative to conventional fuel oil for residential heating. The researchers will evaluate cost, emissions, wear and tear on oil-burner components, and efficiency of biofuels to see if blending a small percentage of biofuel with conventional fuel oil is a feasible way to stretch oil supplies.
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