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A bio of Bioheat[R]: a crash course in the alternative heating fuel: Brian Winslett offers up information and answers FAQs so you can warm up your winter with an eco-friendly twist.

So you've bought that old house and are starting to renovate it, hoping to do some good for your new investment's aesthetic appeal, comfort, and perhaps its energy efficiency and environmental footprint. There's no doubt that gutting that old fuel-oil-fired furnace and replacing it with some other source of heating has popped into your head. But, put on the brakes for a second. That old furnace may just be the easiest and cheapest immediate option for greening your method of warming up.

How so? That old oil furnace (or newer oil furnace) can operate on a new form of heat called Bioheat[R]. You've likely heard of biodiesel, a renewable replacement from vegetable oils or animal fats for diesel engines. The truth is, there are a number of diesel and oil applications where biodiesel can serve as a total replacement or partial supplement, and heating your home is one of those applications.


None. In fact, using Bioheat will keep your furnace system much cleaner and reduce maintenance requirements while providing the same performance that your petroleum oil provides.

But, do be aware that not all Bioheat blends are the same. Blends up to 20 percent biodiesel mixed with 80 percent oil, called B20, can be used seamlessly with your existing furnace and any fuel already in your tank. This allows you to take advantage of renewable energy this very winter if your home has oil heat. An oil furnace can run on 100 percent biodiesel fuel if modifications are made to the furnace and tank.



Even 20 percent biodiesel reduces sulfur emissions by 83 percent, nitrogen oxide emissions by 20 percent, and carbon dioxide emission, which contributes to global warming, by 16 percent *. Bioheat is less toxic and more biodegradable than pure fuel oil. One of the greatest advantages of B20 Bioheat is its 20 percent carbon neutral biodiesel component. Although new clean-burning natural gas or propane furnaces may have very low pollution emissions, these fuels are still fossil fuels that contribute to global warming due to their release of non-closed loop carbon, unlike Biofuels. Biofuels do release carbon dioxide when burned; however, the plant that grew the biomass that is converted into the biofuel removed an equal or greater amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis.


Yes, older oil furnaces can have a much lower efficiency than today's natural gas furnaces or even today's new oil furnaces. Typically, any old furnace (of any type) connected to non-insulated and leaky ductwork will be an expensive form of heat. Even if you install a new gas furnace or heat pump, your energy bills may be very expensive until the air envelope, window type, and insulation of the home are upgraded to typical modern home standards or better.

As a note, new oil furnaces generally cost about the same or a little more than natural gas furnaces. Historically, oil furnaces last much longer than natural gas furnaces, because they burn at a much hotter temperature and drive away combustion condensation that can shorten the life of a natural gas furnace.

When comparing heating oil cost to Bioheat cost, Bioheat costs between five and fifteen cents more per gallon. This means you will likely pay two to six percent more for heating your home if you choose Bioheat over oil heat. If you compare this cost increase to installing a totally new furnace for the purpose of changing your heat source, you will see that this marginal increase for going a little greener is very affordable. And, if you are a renter with oil heat, Bioheat is an option over replacing the source.


Currently, there are local companies looking into and testing the methods required to retrofit existing oil furnaces and tanks in order for them to run on 100-percent biodiesel fuel. In the meantime, B20 is made readily available in the greater Asheville region by Blue Ridge Biofuels.

* Data provided by the National Biodiesel Board

Brian Winslett graduated from UNCA with a B.S. in Environmental Studies and Chemistry, and is the one of the managing partners at Blue Ridge Biofuels. Blue Ridge Biofuels is a worker-owned business that produces ASTM D6751 quality biodiesel from locally sourced waste cooking oils delivered regionally and sold at seven local fueling stations. For more information, visit
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Author:Winslett, Brian
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Dec 1, 2007
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