Letter From Langdon: Nature’s Heat

Corn stoves produce clean heat and a nice aroma. And what's left over goes straight back to the garden.

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Dad once told me that during the depression farmers burned corn in their coal fired furnaces. Nearly worthless corn replaced the coal that had to be bought in town. Today biomass, like corn and cellulose, is replacing coal again. For instance with carbon emission rules set to tighten, some coal burning power generators will soon be mixing renewable cellulose pellets with coal to earn credits for using a renewable source of energy.

I doubt they’ll be using corn that way, but corn is still a renewable fuel in some homes.

Back in the eighties, a handful of entrepreneurs got the idea that wood-pellet stoves used for home heating could be adapted to burn 100% natural clean-burning corn. They were right, and today I and a lot of other people have corn stoves.

Richard Oswald
Corn has about as many BTUs per pound as wood.

Like wood pellet stoves, most commercially built corn stoves have three working parts: a fan to force heated air from the stove into the room, a small spiral conveyor known as an auger that supplies corn to the combustion chamber or burning pot, and a blower that provides additional air for combustion.

In the days when guys like Carrol Buckner and Jim Larkin were refining their ideas about home grown energy and corn stoves, the burdensome corn surplus was burning a hole in our pockets. That’s about the same time corn ethanol came on the scene to stay, because people were realizing that the BTU’s in a kernel of corn were more valuable than the calories it contained.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that a roaring mini-fire in the corn stove is a poor second to roasting chestnuts over an open hardwood blaze, but as I told my wood-burning son-in-law not long ago, I don’t need a chain saw or log splitter to fuel a corn stove either.

Here in my community we have at least one or two chimney fires every year. Chimney fires result when wood stoves are vented into old unlined flues, or sometimes when the owner fails to keep creosote, a by-product of burning wood, from accumulating inside the chimney.

What it boils down to is that a pound of corn has about 90% of the heating value of wood. But with corn there is no danger of creosote or a chimney fire because corn stoves don’t require a chimney.

Now you know the truth, corn is safer than wood and cleaner than coal.

There are about 8000 BTUs in a pound of wood, 7000 BTUs in a pound of corn (392,000 per bushel), and 91600 BTUs in a gallon of propane. We happen to have a propane furnace as well. This year we paid about $1.70 for our propane. Compared to propane, corn provides the same amount of heat, 30% cheaper, and corn stoves can’t explode.

On the downside, corn stoves are a little messy. For one thing most corn has an inherent dust problem. It can be a little untidy when filling the stove, and cleanup is the same way. Burned corn leaves a solid block of ash called a “clinker.” Clinkers have to be pried up and out of the firebox and removed with tongs about twice a day. Failure to remove the clinker eventually shuts off the air supply to the fire which can cause it to go out. But removing the clinker is not nearly as messy as cleaning a wood stove. A three pound coffee can holds 2 days worth of clinkers as compared to a 5 gallon bucket full of ash from wood for about the same period.

Richard Oswald
About twice a day, you do have to remove the “clinker” from your corn stove.

Clinkers make great garden fertilizer because they are mostly made up of minerals and soil nutrients that won’t burn. Thanks to photosynthesis, corn plants gather up sunlight and store it in each and every kernel. Those tiny yellow grains contain the power of the sun, and when they’re expended all that remains is the good earth.

Best of all is the smell of the corn stove. When people come to the house almost everyone wants to know what’s cooking.

I just tell ‘em it’s OPEC’s goose!

 

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