DOE, AGH launch fourth wood stove design challenge

By U.S. Department of Energy | August 14, 2017

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced the launch of the fourth Wood Stove Design Challenge in partnership with the Alliance for Green Heat. Teams from around the world will compete for up to $25,000 in prizes to design the next generation of residential biomass heaters capable of generating enough electricity to power everything from a cell phone to an entire home. The teams and exhibitors will also have a chance to showcase their revolutionary wood stove technology on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., from Nov. 9–14, 2018. The event will be free and open to the public and will allow finalists to engage with policymakers, industry, and experts in the renewable energy community.

Wood as a main heating source in homes has gained popularity in many areas of the country in recent years. According to the Energy Information Agency, approximately 2.3 million homes in 2015 used wood as their primary source of heat (up from 1.9 million in 2005), and approximately 11.5 million used wood stoves a secondary source of heat. This accounts for about 10 percent of U.S. households. Yet the technological innovations that have hit the home appliance market over the past 20 years—think refrigerators that can track contents and expiration dates, incorporate cooking applications, and allow remote operation—have largely missed the wood stove industry. Now a significant opportunity exists with thermoelectric wood stoves that incorporate electricity generation technology into the wood stove design. In fact, thermoelectric wood stoves can even be integrated with solar residential photovoltaic (solar electric) systems to help double wintertime output in northern climates where useful solar radiation is limited to 2–4 hours per day. However, these innovations have not yet seen widespread adoption.

In partnership with the Alliance for Green Heat, DOE's Bioenergy Technologies Office is helping to fund this challenge with hopes of encouraging inventors, universities, and manufacturers to design an integrated thermoelectric generator and wood stove that is optimized for both home heat and electrical power output. This technology will be consistently cleaner, more efficient, and easier to use.

Participants will compete in two events. The first seeks to automate wood stoves with sensors and Wi-Fi-enabled controls that improve combustion efficiency and improve indoor air quality and ease of use. The second competition will focus on thermoelectric wood stoves that generate electricity to power lights, cell phones, and Wi-Fi-enabled controls.

Previous Wood Stove Design Challenges have attracted more than 100 teams from around the world (e.g., Finland, Austria, Denmark, New Zealand), giving them free access to sophisticated testing that would otherwise cost tens of thousands of dollars in a commercial lab, as well as exposure to manufacturers that want to be the first to market this technology. Past Wood Stove Design Challenges have also had a successful track record of giving small businesses a boost, helping them establish their company and commercialize their stove—several of which are now available on the market.

The Wood Stove Design Challenge is a critical part of BETO's overall goal to develop revolutionary, sustainable bioenergy technologies to convert our nation's abundant biomass resources into renewable biofuels, biopower, and bioproducts. BETO will provide $125,000 in funding for research grants on stove technology, as well as support the management of the grants. Enabling the technology innovation that will allow millions of families to have access to affordable, efficient, and clean wood stoves is an important component of the growing bioeconomy.

Additional details about participating and competing in this competition can be found here. Wood stove designers or others interested in competing can register here. The Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy accelerates research and development of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and innovative solutions that strengthen U.S. energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality.