A Pictou County farmer has found a way to heat homes with hay.
Gus Swanson has established the Waterside Hot Water Hay Pellet Furnace that he calls an affordable alternative to rising home heating costs that will save money and the planet at the same time.
Swanson says his furnace can heat barns and workshops like his, as well as homes.
It’s the result of building and testing 10 prototypes to ensure peak efficiency, but the business is doubling as a new market for agriculture producers like him who are trying to find new sources of income.
Swanson’s furnace provides heat in a hurry.
When he loads the furnace with hay pellets, the temperature in its water chamber reaches the boiling point within seven minutes.
At that temperature, the furnace can burn off all ash and leaves little or no waste.
By Swanson’s calculations, the hay pellets he uses produce only a fraction of the particulates emitted from wood stoves and 90 percent less carbon dioxide than fuel oil, natural gas or propane.
As a result, the furnace has to be cleaned only once a year.
The furnace burns 50 to 125 pounds of pellets a day and creates 30,000 to 190,000 BTUs an hour.
The pellets are made from dried field hay left in the fields and harvested at the end of the season, Swanson says.
“The hay pellets are incredibly efficient,” he says. “We have 100,000 acres of hay in Nova Scotia that isn’t cut, and two acres of hay will heat a house. It’s a cheap, endless, renewable source of energy.”
Swanson has arranged for a Musquodoboit company to compress the hay pellets suitable for use in the furnace.
Reed-canary grass is the variety converted into pellets because of its content and high crop yield, up to five tonnes an acre.
One tonne of hay is equivalent to approximately $700 worth of conventional heating oil, says Swanson, and one tonne of hay pellets would sell for approximately $200.
Every 50 acres of reed-canary grass burned as hay pellets diverts 1,800 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, he says.
Also, biomass crops like reed-canary grass and switch grass will grow on marginal farmland.
Farmers with 100 acres of hay could earn up to $50,000 a year, Swanson says.
“It’s got a lot going for it for both the environment and rural development,” he says.
Swanson received a grant from Agri-Futures Nova Scotia, the provincial distributor of funds through the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Advancing Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food (ACAAF) Program, to assist in patent and safety certificate testing.
“It may well open up opportunities for farmers in Nova Scotia,” says Agri-Futures Nova Scotia executive director Richard Williams.
“It should expand the biofuel market.”
Swanson also hopes a business will buy into the hay pellet heating system and expand the operation.