Herald and Journal, Feb. 12, 2001

New source of heat: corn-burning furnace

By Lynda Jensen

Kernels of corn drop quietly into a pit of luminescent cinders within a new kind of fireplace available through a small business in Winsted.

The business, owned by Doug and Cari Bebo, just opened last week, on the east end of Main Avenue next to RE/MAX Realty.

The fireplace, called a "Countryside Multi-fuel Stove" is best known for using shelled corn, Bebo said. It can also burn cherry pits or wood pellets, among other things.

The cost of operating the stove is a fraction of what other fuel sources cost, Bebo said (see chart). Chart

For example, to burn corn for 1 million BTUs, the cost would be $3.33 for corn compared to $13 to provide an equivalent amount of heat with natural gas, Bebo said.

"You'd be surprised at how much heat you get from a handful of corn," commented farmer Mike Mickolichek, Silver Lake. "We love it."

Mickolichek bought the stove for his kitchen since it was a cheaper way to heat a room. However, he is now trying to add ductwork to the rest of his house because the heat is too strong for one room, he said.

Mickolichek also bought the stove because he wanted to use his own product - corn. The Mickolicheks own 1,000 acres, growing corn and soybeans.

The corn-fed stove has a 92 percent energy efficiency and is cheaper to install, more energy efficient, and safer than a traditional wood-burning fireplace. Corn is plentiful and a renewable resource as well, he said.

In addition, there is a great deal less ash to dispose of than with a wood-burning fireplace, Bebo said. The corn-fed fireplace needs to have its ash removed once a week.

A wood burning fireplace uses a chimney and draws its air from the room it is trying to warm, Bebo said.

This is inherently inefficient because as the fireplace draws air in to heat, it causes drafty areas from farther points in the house to close in, especially since a fireplace uses a lot of air, he said.

That's why it feels suddenly cold about five feet away from a wood stove or fireplace, he said.

The Countryside fireplace does not use a chimney, but instead is connected directly through an outside wall, drawing in and sending exhaust outside.

No air used for combustion is circulated in the room, which is part of the reason the fireplace is so efficient, Bebo said.

This also eliminates the possibility of carbon monoxide entering the room.

The stove can be connected to a thermostat, and uses electronic components to regulate all of its controls, including the corn dispensing system and air flow, Bebo said.

The stove automatically shuts off when something isn't right, such as the temperature being too high or too low, the back door being open, or other things that the stove may deem as unsafe.

The corn must be dry when it is used for fuel, because wet corn will cause the stove to turn off, Bebo said.

"Insurance companies like them," Bebo said of the stove.

It burns about a bushel of shelled corn each day, which is equivalent to two five-gallon pails, with a two-day supply held in its storage area in the back of the fireplace.

An average home burns about 150 to 200 bushels of corn per season, depending on the temperature set on the thermostat, Bebo said.

The only catch with the stove is storage and transport of shelled corn. The Bebos are planning to set up a corn delivery and storage service, which would be available to those who want to pay a small fee.

The Countryside stove is manufactured by a company in Hutchinson, American Energy Systems.

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