UB team to improve wood stoves, save energy

Photos of fires burning inside a wood stove.

Progress of combustion processes inside a biomass-fired heater showing the progression of different burning modes.

by Nicole Capozziello and Jane Stoyle Welch

Published October 22, 2020

Many homes throughout the United States use wood stoves for heat during the cold winter months. However, these stoves are often inefficient and contribute to air pollution.

“This project complements our ongoing activities by leveraging the unique laser-based diagnostics and advanced numerical modeling techniques that we have developed here at UB.”
Paul DesJardin, professor
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

“While wood stoves are commonplace throughout the United States, there is little oversight on their use and hardly any of them have modern controller technologies to reduce harmful soot and CO emissions,” says Paul DesJardin, a professor in UB’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

DesJardin and UB co-PI Joseph Mollendorf are part of a team led by Ohio State University’s Simulation Innovation and Modeling Center (SIMCenter) that recently received a three-year $2.5 million grant from the Department of Energy (DOE).

The project aims to develop and test high-efficiency, low-emission residential wood stoves to help the industry meet current and future DOE and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations and goals. The team also includes researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Buck Stove and NAFEMS, which is an international association for the engineering modelling, analysis and simulation community.

“Researchers at the SIMCenter have developed advanced emission controller technologies for automobiles, which we plan to adapt to reduce emissions from wood stoves,” says DesJardin.

The UB team will develop a computer model to predict emissions from soot and smoke, and conduct tests to determine whether the level of emissions can be dynamically controlled.

computer model of fire simulation.

Computational fluid dynamics simulation using Large Eddy Simulation (LES) techniques to analyze the unsteady turbulent mixing processes.  LES is useful for optimizing the combustor geometry and designing secondary air flow passages to understand the production of emissions. 

“We got started in this line of research through a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) in 2014 to examine emissions from wood-fired hydronic heaters and develop similar models,” says Mollendorf, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “Through this, we developed advanced laser-based absorption diagnostics to improve the collection and accuracy of emissions data.”

The findings from this research resulted in new state guidance on emission standards, as well as new testing methods to certify hydronic heater appliances, such as radiators.

The new project also builds on research conducted in UB’s Combustion and Energy Transport Lab, which is co-directed by DesJardin and Mollendorf. Work in the lab focuses on the development and application of experimental numerical modeling to understand energy transfer in reacting flow systems. The lab is currently supported by the U.S. Army, NASA, the National Science Foundation and a new DOE-funded University at Buffalo Center for Hybrid Rocket Exascale Simulation Technology.

“This project complements our ongoing activities by leveraging the unique laser-based diagnostics and advanced numerical modeling techniques that we have developed here at UB,” says DesJardin.

The grant awarded to the SIMCenter is part of $97 million in DOE funding for 33 projects that support high-impact technology research and development to accelerate the global bioeconomy.