"The fact is, done poorly wood burning can have a negative environmental impact. But done well, it can be part of an environmentally sound mix," concludes Alternative Energy Primer.
Wood fires "done poorly" waste energy resources, pump particulate matter into the air and sometimes contribute to unsustainable clear-cutting of forest land. Done well, wood fires can be energy efficient, minimize pariculate matter released into the air and make use of fallen trees that might otherwise be dumped in a landfill.
We aim to burn wisely—outside and in. One way we do this: our Kimberly gasifier wood stove by Unforgettable Fire, which produces just 3.2 grams/hour in emissions (exceeding EPA guidelines). Essentially, stoves like this double burn your fuel—first the wood burns and then the smoke—to give you a cleaner, more efficient burn. The stove is expensive (about $4K) and burns best with kiln-dried wood that we buy. So, we're not picking up sticks in the forest and burning them to heat our house for free. On the plus side: its slim profile works great in a tiny house setting. These days, there are more and more choices when it comes to clean-burning, high efficiency wood burning stoves. Pleasant Hearth, Hi-Flame and Vogelzang are just a few of the companies we've heard good things about.
Outside, we love to cook on our Biolite BaseCamp. We collect downed sticks and branches, and turn them into the flames that cook our burgers, pizza and more. An internal fan on the unit forces air back into the burn chamber, improving combustion and creating a cleaner, more efficient burn. And, as if that's not enough to love, the unit captures waste heat and converts it into usable electricity via an attached thermoelectric generator. It can power a lamp or charge our phones.
Where we haven't been too clean about our wood burning: camp fires and our fire pit. We love a good fire on a cool night. But our fires release particulate matter into the night sky, not to mention nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, benzene and other VOCs. According to the EPA, these negatives are mitigated somewhat by burning smaller, hotter fires. So, we try to use dry wood and put out a fire when we're finished, rather than letting it smolder.
Better yet, Biolite is coming to our rescue! Their new FirePit will bring the same smart-burning, energy-efficient flames to the camp fire as their grills deliver currently. We signed up for Biolite's latest Kickstarter campaign; come August 2018 we'll be able to sit guilt-free around our fire.
I'll let the Biolite people explain the concept:
"Across the body of the FirePit we’ve got 51 airjets that inject the fire with oxygen along key locations thanks to the fan located inside the USB-rechargeable orange power pack. This creates a more uniform temperature and mixing of gases inside the fire which dramatically improves combustion. This means two important things: 1) You get the crackling, the smell, and the feel of a robust wood fire but WITHOUT the smoke and 2) You can actually achieve a warm, roaring fire with LESS wood because you’re burning your original fuel more efficiently."
Even more fun: the FirePit teams flames with high-tech. We'll be able to control the burn of the fire with our smart phones. We'll also be able to charge those phones from the FirePit's battery back and run lights from it. I'll be able to have a fret-free fire.
Burn, baby, burn.