Reassessing the Future of Oil Heat – Advanced Fuel Solutions

By Paul Nazzaro, President, AFS

If you missed Don Farrell’s recent presentation to the Oilheat Manufacturers Association on how heating oil is being factored into future state energy policies, allow me to provide you with a brief summary.

It’s not.

According to the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM), as a high carbon fuel, heating oil has no place in the plans of policy makers. In its publication New England Climate Mitigation Modeling, NESCAUM outlines its goal of achieving a 35%-45% reduction in GHG emissions below 1990 levels by 2030, and 75-85% reduction in GHG emissions below 2001 levels by 2050, through four core reduction strategies: heavy electrification, electrification with low penetration of hydrogen, high penetration of hydrogen transportation, and electrification with some zero-carbon liquid fuel (ZCLF) biofuel heating.

To zoom in on each state, Maine has committed to reduce oil dependence by 50% by 2020; Vermont has a renewable energy standard law calling for electrification of buildings, and a 40% reduction below GHG levels in 1990 by 2030; New Hampshire follows with a 40% reduction below GHG levels in 1990 by 2030, New York, a 40% reduction; Connecticut last year implemented a plan calling for residential building electrification; and Massachusetts is aiming for a 25% reduction in GHG emissions from all sectors below 1990 baseline emission levels in 2020 (and an 80% reduction by 2050). The story is much the same in all neighboring states. Virtually anyone reading this article will be impacted.

It’s time for our industry to redirect our collective focus from nozzles, strainers, filters, and aging equipment and tanks, to start seriously considering how we can maintain relevance in the context of policies aimed at remediating the GHG problem through electrification.

While NESCAUM’s time frames are very short—most call for upwards of a 40% reduction in GHG by 2030, which means our supply pool would need to be at a 50% Bioheat blend in just 11 years to be acceptable—the good news is that much has already been addressed and placed into the technical archives to suggest that blends up to 20% are market ready today. While there are still debates that Bioheat® Fuel is not suitable for blends beyond 5% without retrofitting systems, I’ll simply let the academic, laboratory and field results speak for themselves. Today, the technical community continues to work exhaustively to assess blends greater than 20% so that our industry has a fighting chance amidst the energy sector’s rapidly evolving regulatory standards.

For more on that, I would strongly encourage adding to your reading list the Brookhaven National Laboratory’s report, B20 to B100 Blends as Heating Fuels, which was submitted to the New York State Energy Research Development Authority, the National Biodiesel Board, and the National Oilheat Reserch Alliance. Doing so should instill greater sense of confidence in the operability and marketability of higher blends of biodiesel in heating oil.

A second piece of recommended reading is the following article by Richard Sweetser, founder and president of EXERGY Partners, on page four of the January/February 2019 Indoor Comfort Marketing (“Future-Fuel, biodiesel and advanced biofuels for residential heating”). As Richard clearly states, we are in a fight for our lives, and need to accept that our businesses of buying and selling fuel oil will never be the same.

Information is both invaluable and a prerequisite for success when your livelihood is being challenged. Our industry is either reaching its renaissance or demise. To judge a product’s feasibility based on unsupportable remarks about what will or won’t work is irresponsible. No matter what you have heard about Bioheat®Fuel, be assured that its performance in relation to burners, pumps, seals, low temperatures, flame sensor response, yellow metal encounters and emission profiling have been addressed and will continue to be addressed as we navigate the pathways to validate that blends approaching 50% and beyond are feasible and safe.

Interestingly, in a recent visit to the state-of-the-art NORA laboratory in Plainview, NY, I was able to physically handle all fuel-wetted parts that had been sent in from a variety of markets for assessments on wear. What was clear to me after close to forty-years of fuel and hardware investigation is the challenges bear a striking resemblance to what the industry struggled with in 1979. If we were able to connect all of the dots, I imagine we would find much of what ails us is in the storage tank. Our 21st century fuel deserves upgraded storage and strict housekeeping procedures so that it can operate at its maximum reliability, efficiency and output.  Because make no mistake: if it can’t do its job, before long, we may not be doing ours.  

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