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Corn as fuel

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John Pendray[edit]

The material in this section is based on a Wired blog on corn and wood pellets as fuel.

John Pendray, a graduate student in MIT's Technology and Policy program, has studied the economics of burning corn rather than using energy to convert it to ethanol... so that the ethanol will ultimately get internally combusted.

"The fuel itself is less expensive than (home heating) oil," he said. "But it is more expensive to buy a corn or (wood)-pellet burning furnace."

Corn is cheaper than oil for the same amount of energy, and if corn is expensive one year, many corn-burning furnaces also burn wood-pellets, made made from sawdust and other scraps, which are slightly more expensive than corn's usual price.

Pendray says the corn/pellet stove emits 75% less CO2 than an equivalent oil-fueled furnace. However, converting that corn to ethanol ends up producing about as much CO2 as the gasoline it would replace.

Suggested projects[edit]

  • Design a stove which meets regulatory requirements in the relevant setting (e.g. a setting where corn is readily available, such as the USA). It must burn corn or wood pellets cleanly and efficiently, at much lower capital cost than the $3500-$4000 described in Wired blog, above. This may be inspired by the low cost improved stoves intended for less developed communities.[Suggested project]