Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  

Epa Bans Most Wood-Burning Stoves - Will This Affect Wood Fired Kilns Too?

Recommended Posts

Wood burning stoves are among the "must haves" now in the UK if you want to keep up with neighbours. 


New companies are popping up everywhere to sell and install the things. 


I prefer my gas fired central heating:  wood burning stoves, to me, are a step backwards.


The ash is handy for glazes though, I've recently arranged for a supply from a friend. :)

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Another perspective:  http://www.chimneysweeponline.com/hoepareg.htm


The EPA is an easy target for many "fund-raising" causes in the US and overstating the impact of regulation is part of that game. 


As for wood kilns, I quick read of the regs find they focus on wood-fired furnaces for heating . . . don't know of many/any woodies used for home heating.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites



The EPA is an easy target for many "fund-raising" causes in the US and overstating the impact of regulation is part of that game. 



Thank you.


Bunch of undersupported public servants trying to address a deadly serious problem.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest JBaymore

Great question.  This is gonna' be long.  Sorry.


That first link above is a very "reactionary" and "inflamatory" type of writing. It is "scaremongering", with an agenda. Everyone's writing is like that......mine too, of course.


A lot about this whole wood kiln and pollution discussion was included in my part of the "Up In Smoke" presentation at the NCECA conference in Portland, OR in 2006.  (See the NCECA Journal for that year.)  I also cover a lot of this stuff in my kiln design and operation classes. 


As a wood firer since 1969, a pro kiln designer and builder, a college professor of ceramics, and a self-proclaimed ernviromentalist, this 'wood kilns and pollution' thing is a "pet peeve" on my hot button list.


And I always have to say this following kind of "disclaimer" stuff before I go further with these thoughts on wood kilns......... because certain folks will jump all over me if I don't...... I am not anti-environmentalist.  Actually the exact opposite.  (Some folks will still jump all over me.  So be it. B) )


I burn wood for kilns and home heating because it is a renewable resource, and on about a 30 year viewpoint window, is basically carbon neutral.  I've had solar collectors on the roof and thermosiphoning ones on the side walls of our home since the mid- 70's.  Same for an attached solar greenhouse. I designed and had built the main woodstove we use based on my kiln-design thermal engineering background; it is very, very efficient.  The home and studio have had the insulation improved (and I am always improving this).  I just installed a gas heater in the studio that is 90% efficient, with the main output a pumped water situation  (amazing technology!).  Our main "travel car" at the moment gets about 40 mpg.  We have been recycling ALL of our trash since 1977.  My wood kiln is deliberately one of the most efficient thermal designs available.... a noborigama... the precursor to the modern continuous tunnel kiln concept.  It has insulating firebrick on the exterior courses.  For about 30 years, all of the wood burned in the kiln was scrap wood from mills... that would have been burned in a big pile, to no good productive end.  Oh, and my wife and I are proponents of the old 60's movement; ZPG (Zero Population Growth).


There...... got that off my chest.  On to the subject at hand..............


For those that say that burning wood is putting particulates into the air, .... yup.... it is.  No question on that.  BUT I'll take that level of hazard well over the situation that we see at Fukushima in Japan any day (I spend time in Japan.... the situation there is very BAD).  Pick your poison.  Human activity is NOT clean.  We do tend to foul our own nests.  There are consequences to our existance.  If you want no impacts from us on the planet.... maybe we need to become extinct.  Then the planet can revert to its pristine state.


Some of the quick "upshot" here..........


First and formost, you have to put our wood kiln's (and all other kilns) usage into some frame of perspective. I did exactly this for part of the NCECA presentation.  I don't have the exact numbers I did back then in front of me at the moment,.... but this is the gist of it.  I compared my noborigama's CO2 pollution output to the CO2 emitted by a single 747 flight from JFK airport in NYC to Narita in Japan.  (I'm an aviation buff..... amd know the numbers for those engines :rolleyes: .)  As I remember I can fire my wood kiln for my entire life on the equivalent of that single, one-way flight (assuming that the wood burning is not carbon neutral).  I did not do particulates for that study, but those jet engines are not all that clean either, particularly on takeoffs and climbs when they burn a lot of gallons of Jet-A fuel per minute.


How many 747's are in the air going around the world on a daily basis?  How many aircraft of all types are in the air burning fuel right now as you read this?  Listen for a bit... almost no matter where you are, you can likely hear at least one.


In fact, go stand on the corner of a major intersection in a city at the morning commute hours for only one hour.  Look at the cars and trucks.  Seriously... LOOK at the cars and trucks.  Try and count them.  You can't.  Every one of them is burning fuel and emitting CO2 and other pollutants.  And that is only one hour at one intersection in one city in one country in the world.  Do the multiplication work.


One more for you.  Go find a hillside overlooking a town or small city on a nice really cold January day, with nice still air, right around dawn.  Look out at the pillars of warm gasses looking a lot like steam coming from all of the various chimneys for home and business heating.  That's CO2 and other pollutants along with the condensing water vapor.  Again, this is one moment in one town in one country.  Multiply. 


I bet you can easily add other such scenarios to the list.


THAT all is a "reality burger, hold the ketchup".  That little exercise puts the accurate perspective on the impacts of a single electric, gas, oil, or wood kiln sitting at your home or studio.  Now we are actually in the right frame of mind to continue discussing this.


The burning of wood as a fuel is for the most part, carbon neutral.  What this means is that as trees grow, they sequester the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, by absorbing CO2, and store it as carbonaceous compounds in the wood.  When you burn the wood, it puts the carbon back into the atmosphere as CO2 again.  This process can be repeated over and over.  It takes about 30 years to gropw a harvestable tree.  So in about a 30 year viewpoint, burning wood is basically carbon neutral.  I produce about 3 sustainable cords a year of harvestable wood on my own property; that heats my house.


The world is filled with what is called scrap wood.  This wood is the processing leftovers from sawmills, the off cuts of lumber work, clean demolition wood from the taking down of wooden buildings, and so on.  A huge portion of this wood goes to landfills every year.  Some of the branches are left as "snag" to rot on the ground in the woods at the point of tree harvest.  At the landfill one of two thngs happens to it.  It gets burnt in big piles, releasing the CO2 for no good reason except reduction in garbage mass.  Or it gets composted (left to rot) which also releases that same CO2. Many woodfirers use this scrap wood to fire pots.  At least the CO2 in the air is for a good reason.  And the high temperatures of the firboxes of well designed woodkilns cause better combustion than the big open  burn piles, and the long flamepaths in the kiln through the pots can trap a lot of particulates.


Lacking testing all of them, it is likely pretty safe to say that there is no woodkiln in the world (with the exception of ONE I know of in Japan that is industrially scrubbed) that will pass the US EPA's PM-2.5 regulation or the older PM-10 standard that have been in place for a LONG time now.  Nothing really new there.  Wouldn't pass before, won't pass now.  This includes Kusakabe-san's new "smokless" designs (more on that in a bit).


Good firebox design and areation practices can greatly reduce the particulates that are emitted during firings.  Ditto for choices of wood burned.  Ditto for stoking methods.  Wood kilns do not HAVE to look like old coal-fired steam engines coming thru town and still get good results.  Kusakabe-san's recent smokless kilns demonstrate this concept.


The current US propensity for building anagama kilns that are basically technologicaly the same core designs as those in Japan in the 1500-1600's is rather problematic, since these kilns are very poor at getting fuel and air mixed before the effluent exits the chambers.  They tend to smoke like hell. Ditto the old US "groundhog" kilns... the "American Anagama".  There is a reason that the noboriogama technology supplanted them in Feudal Japan........ the new design is far more efficient. Doh!


If you understand combustion process, the flow of gasses, and thermal engineering, most any wood kiln's firebox system, including anagama's, can be improved greatly, reducing visible smoke and thereby the particulates emitted.  Kusakabe-san's smokeless design is not something that is earth-shatteringly different; he just understands combustion well.  The tall chimney used there is KEY.  Get plenty of air mixed into the wood, provide turbulent flow for mixing, and give it a long flame path. Simple actually.  My noborigama design burns very cleanly; it was designed to do that.


Most potters don't tend to know it, but the EPA does have jurisdiction over ALL kinds of kilns if you are a business operation....... including gas and oil ones.  If you check it, emissions from most typical potter-type gas kilns in reduction will not pass EPA PM-2.5 standards.  Most potter type oil kilns will not pass either even when not in reduction, particulary those using drip-plate burner designs.


The EPA has regulation classes for such fuel burning units of all kinds.  MOST potters kilns do not fall under the classification of units that require the submission of reports and the obtaining of annual operations permits; they are too small.  These classifications are based upon the annual BTU / CO2 production levels of the units.  But if your overall operation is big enough (lots of kilns) or if you have one big kiln, you DO need this permitting stuff in order to be legal.  Including an annual operating permit.  Surprise there for many reading this, I'll bet.  (Do you know if you should have gotten a permit?  Go to the EPA's website and find out.) 


My own noborigama kiln was speciffically designed for its BTU input to be into the US EPA's 'non-major source' category.  That puts me below the overt permitting process for either a building permit for the unit when it was constructed or for the renewable annual operating permits.  My kiln cold not have been much larger than it was; that was a "design constraint" when I planned it.  If it was bigger, it would have been falling into the regulated category, which I absolutely didn't want.  Many large anagama and noborigama wood kilns in this country are actually in this latter category, but are in fact likely not "legal" if they were looked at by the EPA.


The GOOD news here is that we are "small potatoes" in the overall polution scheme of things. The EPA is not out overtly looking for us (yet).


However, even for the non-major source category, if there is a specific complaint filed, the EPA can decide to enforce the standards for the major sources.  If they do this for a wood kiln, the issues of PM-2.5 and the emissions opacity test will immediately come into place... and you will have a passel of issues to deal with.  Likely unsuccessfully.  And if so, probably quite expensively.  So the big issue here is.................. getting no complaints!


The biggest "issue" woodfirers have at the moment is the visible smoke that seems to be the hallmark of current kiln design and firing practices.  Not only is this a lot of unnecessary particlate pollution, but at least as importantly, it is HIGHLY VISIBLE.  It is going to eventually bring down the "wrath of god" upon the whole woodfire community as more and more people complain about it. Once the EPA gets woodkilns on its radar, the "witch-hunt" will probably begin.  Here in NH, years ago we saw one single potter and his approach to dealing with neighbors and the EPA cause the basic "extermination" of salt firing in the state. (We also saw the FDA go after lead in glazes... but that is another story.)


The current popularity and proliferation of wood firing in the US is going to eventually be an issue as many people are now building wood kilns in settings that are not appropriate to their use (too urban or suburban) .... and that practice will likely bring the attention of the various regulatory bodies down on the overall woodfireng practice.  Potters mistakenly seem to love that huge plume of black smoke coming from the wood kiln stack as some sort of 'personal fireworks" or affirmation of important process, but the average non-potting lay person will simply see ......... RAMPANT HUGE POLLUTION.  They won't be thinking of all those jet planes, all those cars, or all those chimneys.  THIS is what I greatly fear.


Potters as a group have no real political power.  We are easy targets with few resources.  People don't care about us.  Polititians don't care about us.  Big corporations have their lobbyists and their paided-off congressmen.  We are an easy "feel good" target.  Shutting down a wood kiln will look like good politics and environmental awareness.... while right next door the large local employer dumps chemicals into the river.


The upshot of all of this is that that if you are concerned about the enviromnent, there are lots of other things that you can do in your lives that have a far greater impact on our human impact on the planet before you start worrying about deciding to not fire your kilns anymore, or switching from cone 9 to cone 6, shutting down wood kilns, and so on.  Insulate your house.  Install a more efficient heating and cooling system.  Get a fuel efficient car.  Recycle all your garbage.  Lobby your legislators to focus on supporting geothermal, solar, and wind energy.  Limit your children to at most two.  Do those things that have the greatest impacts on the world first.  Priorities.


Something like shifting from cone 9 to cone 6 is simply a "feel good" exercise if you still drive an SUV.  Or if you fly to NCECA every year and stay in a huge energy inefficent hotel eating food that was shipped in from China.


So what is my "personal agenda" here in writing this (as I mentioned there would be at the start)? I don't want to get my relatively efficient and relatively smokeless wood kiln shut down becasue some dimwit decides to drop an anagama in downtown Detriot.  Oh... and maybe also to get people to think about how to appropriately lessen thier impacts upon the planet.






PS:  Hum......... above is: Copyright 2013 -John Baymore -all rights reserved.  I was just thinking that I might write a short article based on editing and embellishing this above.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

PS:  Hum......... above is: Copyright 2013 -John Baymore -all rights reserved.  I was just thinking that I might write a short article based on editing and embellishing this above.


Please do.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  


Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use.