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Free Fuel Powers Biomass Boiler
Adam Brandt fuels his outdoor biomass boiler with “free” material that would otherwise be wasted.
“Since the fuel only needs to be dry and fed through the auger system, we usually burn what would otherwise be waste, like grains that would be unsellable due to mold. We have burned corn so moldy it was rainbow colored,” Brandt says. “We’ve also used wood pellets, barley, oats, and more. This year we are burning a combination of kidney/navy/black beans.”
The oldest grain he’s burned was barley that was more than 20 years old and contaminated by birds and rodents.
“Our boiler can burn almost anything that will feed through a typical farm auger, from large kidney beans down to barley or apple seeds, even rice. Moisture content should be under 14 percent to burn, with an ideal content between 10 to 12 percent moisture,” Brandt explains.
He avoids soybeans because of their high oil content which creates a sooty burn, though soybeans can be 10 to 20 percent of a mix with other grains.
The “fuel” is run through a screen and automatically augers from a 350-bushel grain bin, which is enough to heat the Brandts’ central Minnesota home through a normal winter. Brandt plans to replace the bin with a 1,500-bushel bin, which should last 3 to 4 years. He also wants to expand the system to heat hot water and outbuildings.
While feeding the fire is automatic, Brandt emphasizes there is daily maintenance.
“This type of system (biomass) does require more of a watchful eye than other outdoor boiler systems,” he says. “You need to clean the burn chamber and flues daily, as well as check the auger system for any clogs.”
He also checks the chimney monthly. In a power outage, the burn pot must be cleaned and the fire put out, unless a generator is hooked up to keep the unit running.
Getting the “free” material also requires labor as Brandt and his helpers travel to farms and load the grain. He says it’s a win/win deal for both sides.
“It helps the person we get the materials from in that they get their storage space back to use for profitable storage of their current crop or rental storage for another person’s crops,” says Brandt, who advertises on Facebook for damaged grain. “We try to stay within 60 miles of home.”

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2021 - Volume #45, Issue #1